Sophomore sensation Ariel Nickell pumped in 23 points and ripped down 17 rebounds to lead the Alice Lloyd Lady Eagles to a convincing 84-56 victory over the Midway College Eagles. The quarterfinal victory was played at the Grady Nutt Athletic Center Saturday afternoon.
The two squads had split their two regular season games this season with both winning at home. Midway won 73-68 on January 20th, while ALC returned the favor February 4th, 66-59.
By virtue of their third place finish in conference play, Alice Lloyd earned the right to host the tiebreaking matchup.
ALC Coach John Mills knew his club needed to step up their defensive effort and limit Midway’s guard penetration to have a chance to pull out the win, and he stressed this with his ladies in practice. Based on his squad’s first half performance, the coach’s chargers proved to be apt listeners.
Alice Lloyd came out of the gate on fire as Nickell, Bailey Gabbard, and Courtney Crowder combined for all 16 points in the opening 5:32 to propel the Eagles to a 16-5 lead. The lead reached 16 (21-5) at 13:21 after Sarah Burchell and Gabbard hit back-to-back shots.
Midway fought back over the next six minutes. Janel Wilkerson hit a free throw to complete a 12-4 MC run and set the score at 25-17. Once again this game looked as if it would be as tight as the previous two.
Mills’ ladies decided that they did not want a third nail-biter and set out to do something about it. Over the last 7:39, ALC tightened their defense and put on an impressive offensive performance. When Nickell swished a three-point bomb just before the halftime buzzer, the Eagles’ offensive blitzkrieg concluded. ALC had closed the half on an 18-0 run and increased their once perilous eight-point lead to twenty-six (43-17).
“We really stepped up our defense, which fueled our offense,” said Coach Mills. “That was one of the best defensive performances I have ever had one of my clubs display.”
In the second half, the visitors fought to make one last charge, and they opened the half on a 12-4 run in the first three minutes to cut the deficit to 18 (47-29). But Alice Lloyd’s Nickell scored on her team’s next possession, and Midway would get no closer.
For ALC (11-20), Nickell (left) led all players with her 23 points and 17 rebounds. Freshman Carla McDaniel played a solid all-around game as she tossed in 13 points, hauled down 7 rebounds, and added 3 steals. Crowder played well with 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Gabbard hit three bombs and scored 9 points and added 4 assists, while Sarah Burchell added 8 points, dished off a game high 7 assists, and had 3 steals. Freshman Chelsea Brown chipped in 9 points and added 5 more rebounds to the overall haul.
Midway (5-23) was led by Miranda Rone with 17 points.
Alice Lloyd won the game in the first half by shooting 53% (17-32) from the floor and holding MC to only 21.9% (7-32). ALC finished the night by connecting on 47.9% (35-73), while Midway finished at 30% (20-66). Alice Lloyd won the rebounding battle 43-34.
With the win, ALC now advances to Monday’s semifinal round. They will face the Indiana University Southeast Grenadiers at Berea College. The second seeded Grenadiers swept both games in the regular season, winning at Pippa Passes in January by a score of 82-54 and defeating the Eagles at IUS in what was one of ALC’s final regular season games. The Eagles battled the hosts down to the wire before falling 63-60, so this matchup should be a barn-burner.
Tip-off is set for Monday, February 27th, at 5:30 PM.