WINONA LAKE — Coming into the first round of National Christian College Athletic Association Tournament play Wednesday, host Grace was feeling confident.
The Lady Lancers had every reason to, with wins in eight of their last 11 games, including a victory over NCCAA tourney 2 seed Concordia in their final game before Spring Break, as well as their own highest-ever seed at the eight-team tilt.
But No. 4 Grace got off to a slow start in its opener with fifth-seeded Emmanuel, falling behind by 15 at the half, and was never able to get back out front in an eventual 65-54 loss at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
“Disappointing that we didn’t get the win tonight. I think the girls are going to be crushed. We think we had a team that could win the whole thing this year,” said Grace head coach Scott Blum.
“I think the best two teams were playing tonight, and that’s happened I don’t know how many times in this tournament. We got beaten, but we’ll bounce back tomorrow and hopefully win the next two games.”
The Lady Lancers scuffled to an 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) shooting start in their first game in nearly two weeks, and they didn’t fare much better on the other end of the floor as the Lions converted on 14 of their first 26 (53.8 percent) shots. Junior guard Lochlain Corliss went 4 for 4 for eight points before the break, and junior forward Taylor Delesbour knocked down 4 of 6 from the floor and added a pair of free throws for 12 points in the first half.
In particular, the Lions weren’t giving either Brooke Sugg or Vironnica Drake much to work with, as Sugg made just two of five shots before halftime, and Drake went 1 for 7 over the first two quarters. A 21-8 second period by the Lions — including nine unanswered points beginning with Delesbour’s old-fashioned three-point play at the 7:32 stop of the frame and stretching to Marina Moreno Bendala’s assist of an Avery Scarborough lay-in with four minutes remaining — left Grace in a 36-21 hole at the intermission.
“We weren’t defending. They were just dribble driving right to the basket, and when our defense doesn’t go well we tend to kind of panic on the offensive end,” explained Blum. “We were taking some quick shots and just didn’t finish some of our shots. I don’t know how many lay-ups we missed and open jump shots that we normally hit. But give them credit. I think they played pretty good defense, took away a lot of our sets that we get. He did a good job scouting us and took away Sugg, frustrated her all night. She puts up 20 usually for us, and I don’t know what she finished with but not a lot.”
With neither Sugg nor Drake putting up their usual production, sophomore point guard Lexi Minix got the Lancers off to a fast start in the second half with back-to-back 3s to open the third quarter. Another triple — this one a backwards-falling trey from the wing by Drake at the 6:25 stop of the clock — whittled Grace’s deficit down to 39-32, and the home team remained within seven points at 44-37 at the end of the frame. Emmanuel ran back with six straight points to start the final frame, but Grace pulled within five with an 8-0 spurt spanning from Pam Miller’s lay-up off a Sugg assist at the 3:46 mark to Sugg’s helper to Micaela Box’s 3 from the top of the key with 2:24 to play.
Emmanuel still led by a tenuous 59-54 margin with 23 seconds remaining, but the Lancers never got any closer as the Lions held them off with 6-of-6 free throw shooting down the stretch.
Drake finished the night with 11 points, eight rebounds and three steals to lead her team in all three categories, while Box added 10 points, and Minix scored nine with three steals. Sugg was held seven points below her average with seven points but dished out a game-high six assists for Grace (18-16).
The Lancers (16-11) had three players finish in double figures led by Delesbour’s 16 points, Corliss’ 12 points, three assists and six steals, and Emily Dreslinski’s 10 points and eight rebounds. Wednesday’s game marked the second straight time Grace has fallen to Emmanuel in its NCCAA tourney opener following last year’s 73-53 loss to the Lions.
“This team is good. We know that every year,” said Blum. “We’ve played them like four out of the last whatever times. A Division II school, out of all the schools, we always get them. I’m proud of our girls. The ball goes one way or the other we might’ve had a chance to win this game.”
Emmanuel advances to play top-seeded Mid-America Christian in the winners’ bracket at 5:15 p.m., while Grace plays Yellowstone in Thursday’s second game, scheduled for 10:15 a.m.
No. 3 Greenville 77, No. 6 Southwestern Christian 70 (2 OT)
With the score knotted at 59-all after the first overtime, reigning NCCAA national champion Greenville outscored Southwestern Christian 18-11 in the second extra period for the win.
Senior guard Meredith Crosier made 4 of 7 3-pointers on her way to 20 points to go with eight rebounds to lead the Lady Panthers, junior forward Welsey Woodard put up 18 points, and senior forward Laura Goodnight scored 11 points with nine rebounds and four assists for Greenville, which got 15 points from its bench compared to just three by Southwestern.
Senior forward Eliora Johnson poured in a game-high 35 points with an equally prolific 21 rebounds to pace the Eagles. Amy Tully finished with 13, and Kylee Vestal scored 10 points with four steals for Southwestern, which out-rebounded Greenville 55-49 in a game that featured six ties and four lead changes.
Greenville advances to play No. 2 Concordia at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Southwestern (13-18) plays No. 7 Hiwassee in Thursday’s opening game at 8:30 a.m.
No. 2 Concordia 91, No. 7 Hiwassee 59
Concordia buried 13 of 26 3-pointers on its way to an eye-popping 91 points in the Cardinals’ rout of the seventh-seeded Tigers.
Two Concordia players finished with more than 20 points as freshman guard Katherine Snow scored 24, and Kathy Freese Award-winning senior guard Kari Borowiak scored 22 points with nine rebounds and four assists. Senior guard Brianna Rowe chipped in 11 points and two assists for a Cardinals squad that had 13 players make the scoring column on the way to a 30-for-64 (46.9 percent) scoring clip.
Junior guard J’Lynn Majors scored 20 points, and junior guard Ashley Roby finished with 10 for Hiwassee.
Concordia takes on third seed Greenville at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, while Hiwassee opens the second round opposite Southwestern at 8:30 a.m.
No. 1 Mid-America Christian 85, No. 8 Yellowstone Christian 45
The top-seeded Evangels punished 37 Yellowstone giveaways with 47 points off turnovers and led pretty much wire to wire in the win.
Sooner Athletic Conference Newomer of the Year Alexis Shannon scored 24 points with five assists, six rebounds and three steals in a complete game for Mid-America, while fellow sophomore Jessica Fairley scored 20 points with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals in a strong one-two for the Evangels. Every Mid-America player made the scoring column in the win, and the top seeds got off to a fast start with 25 points in the first quarter on the way to the win.
Sophomore center Paige Gregory notched 20 points and seven rebounds with a pair of blocks to lead Yellowstone, and Sharnell Thomas scored 11 with six rebounds and four assists for the Centurions.
Mid-America faces Emmanuel at 5:15 p.m. Thursday. Yellowstone plays host Grace at 10:15 a.m. as the second round gets underway.