The second seeded Alice Lloyd Lady Eagles put up a gallant effort in the KIAC Championship game, as they cut an 18 point deficit down to just 6, but they ran out of steam and fell to the top seeded Indiana University-Southeast Lady Grenadiers 72-58 Saturday night.
By virtue of their higher seed, IU Southeast received the right to host the championship game, and they came out of the gates determined to prove their top 20 NAIA ranking and perfect league mark was no fluke.
ALC had been the only team in league play to come within 7 points of the Lady Grenadiers all season. IUS won at home on January 5th, 73-69, and they also defeated ALC 68-64 in overtime on February 19th. Most of the fans in attendance expected a thriller.
At the beginning of the game, IUS came out on fire and vaulted out to 18 -4 lead in the first 5:00. The Lady Eagles appeared shaken and hurt themselves with several early turnovers. Over the next 10:00, the hosts maintained their cushion, and Indiana led 31-13 with just 4:55 remaining.
When asked about his club’s shaky start, Lady Eagles Coach John Mills stated, “We were prepared for this game. We opened up in a zone because of their quickness. Unfortunately, IU penetrated our zone and was able to stick some early shots. It was simply a combination of them getting to the goal and hitting shots off their penetration, and our inability to take care of ball. We committed 5 turnovers in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the game, which is totally out of character for us. I believe our nerves showed early.”
As they have done all season long, the Lady Eagles fought back. Sparked by the one-two punch of senior Whitney Frazier and freshmen Ariel Nickell, ALC went on a 9-0 run to slice the deficit to 31-22 with 2 minutes remaining. At the half, the Grenadiers led by ten, 34-24.
In the second half, the Lady Eagles traded baskets with IUS for the first 14 minutes. At this point, ALC made their last run. Frazier hit a driving layup, and junior forward Gemma Gray sank a three pointer. Suddenly, the Indiana lead was just 6 with 3:42 remaining.
After getting a stop on the defensive end, Nickell was fouled going to the goal. With a chance to cut the deficit to four, the usually clutch forward saw both shots rim out. IUS rebounded and scored to go up by 8. On Alice Lloyd’s next possession, Nickell made a nice move and connected in traffic. Unfortunately, a charge was called nullifying the goal. This proved to be the backbreaker as IUS scored on their next possession to push the lead back to double digits. The hosts then hit enough free throws to seal the championship.
After the game, Coach Mills said, “We are not satisfied with the ending, but we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I was able to get everything out of these players that they could give, and all eleven of them left everything on the floor each practice and game we played.”
For Alice Lloyd (15-15) Frazier (Louisa) closed out a brilliant career with 16 points. She scored a total of 72 points in the three tournament games. Gray (Manchester) tossed in 14 points and pulled down a team high 6 rebounds. Nickell (Claiborne, TN) also reached double figures with 11.
Seniors Nicole Lutes (Jackson) and Chelsee Jarrell (Paintsville) each added 2 points in their final game wearing the royal blue and white. Both ladies played huge in the first two rounds of the tournament, and each of them gave a big effort tonight with their fight and hustle.
When asked to summarize the play of his three seniors, Coach Mills said, “These three ladies provided so much leadership and played so solid together. They performed up to their potential, and this trio can walk away feeling good about their experience at ALC. I thank them for raising the bar for our future teams, and for setting a high standard for next year’s club. Our returning players need to continue to improve, and appreciate the bar these seniors set. We know our goals, and hopefully this defeat will motivate us to work harder and take that next step.”
IU Southeast (27-5) was led by guard Ashmere Woods with 25 and 6’2 center Alden Krausse with 13. The Grenadiers will now advance to the NAIA National Tournament to be played in Sioux City, Iowa.
In summarizing the season as a whole, Mills stated, “We had a good season overall and made a great run in the conference. I believe our challenging non-conference schedule did prepare us for the tournament. When you consider that these ladies were picked by the league’s coaches in the pre-season to be 7th out of 8 schools, to see them finish tied for2nd and be runner-up in the KIAC tournament speaks volumes about their work ethic and determination.”