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Haley Hall

RIO GRANDE, Ohio – The Alice Lloyd College Lady Eagles traveled to Rio Grande, Ohio with the River States Conference Championship on the line on Tuesday, February 27th. In an exciting contest between the two divisional leaders, the fans witnessed the hosts withstand a furious comeback from the Lady Eagles to prevail, 90-85.

The No. 22-ranked RedStorm, who pulled away to defeat the Eagles, 78-71 in their only previous meeting on Jan. 21 in Rio Grande, appeared on their way to a much easier contest in Tuesday night’s rematch

The start was all Rio could hope for as center Alexis Payne pumped in 10 points in the first four minutes to give her squad a 12-4 advantage. ALC would counter with 6 points from freshman center Alexandria Clifton to get within one (12-11) before the hosts extended the lead back to eight (19-11). The Lady Eagles would close the quarter on 7-3 burst and trail 22-18 at the horn.

In the second quarter, the home fans had plenty to cheer about as they saw their squad rattle Alice Lloyd. Rio threw a 10-0 haymaker in the opening two minutes to knock their foes back on their heels and open a 14 point lead. However, once more, the ladies from Caney Creek responded. Senior guard Miranda Wilson nailed back-to-back bombs to fuel a 12-2 attack of their own, and the deficit was suddenly four ( 34-30).

There is a reason that Rio Grande earned the conferences regular season title, and proving their worth, The RedStorm closed the half on a 16-8 blitz. They would take a comfortable 50-38 lead at intermission.

In the third stanza, after a bucket by Rio forward Abby Wendel at the 7:44 mark, the hosts held a commanding 56-40 lead, and the fans sensed a possible blowout coming. But as they showed in their come-from-behind win over Indiana University East in last Saturday’s semifinal round, Coach John Mills’ ladies would never quit fighting.

Alex Clifton

Alice Lloyd unleashed a furious onslaught as they began to mount a comeback. First, freshman guard Haley Hall began to relentlessly attack the rim, and her effort played huge dividends. During the stretch, she would score 9 points and began to draw fouls on the Rio players. The nice contingency of Eagle fans would also see a big three-pointer from freshman forward Makayla Akers, and watch Clifton score 5 points more to shrink the deficit to just four (66-62) near the end of the period. However, after forcing a turnover and getting the ball back one final time, junior guard Courtney Vasquez found Akers for a 35-foot attempt. When her shot stripped the nylons at the buzzer, the crowd went wild as the score stood 66-65. During the final seven minutes, ALC had countered with an explosive 25-10 run, and now the game was up for grabs.

In the final period, the RedStorm would creep ahead by six, but could not shake the pesky Eagles who tied the game again at 74-all on a long three-pointer from the left corner by sophomore forward Jayla Spurlock with 5:38 left in the contest. The hosts retook the lead on two different occasions, but each time Miranda Wilson answered, hitting a clutch three-pointer with 3:53 remaining to knot the score at 79, and connecting on a beautiful layup just 30 seconds later to make it 81-81. When Clifton intercepted a pass on the next RedStorm possession, Alice Lloyd had the ball with 3:00 remaining, and an opportunity to take their first lead of the game.

With the crowd worked up to a fever pitch, ALC fed the ball inside to Clifton, but her attempt bounced off. Rio quickly pushed the ball down court and found Payne for the go-ahead hoop at 2:26. Now trailing 83-81, the Lady Eagles would lose the ball on their next two possessions which led to 3-4 free throws by the hosts. Suddenly, with just 1:21 remaining, the clock read 86-81, and the home fans began to rejoice.

Emilie Harrell

Naturally, victory would not come that easily as Spurlock sunk a huge trifecta on a nice assist from senior guard Kayla Wilson the next trip down. As the clock ticked below one minute, the score stood 86-84.    

On the critical ensuing possession, Rios Jaida Carter scored on a layup with 50 seconds remaining to make it 88-84. Alice Lloyd’s Hall launched a triple that was off the mark, but Clifton grabbed the rebound and was fouled at .39. She hit one of two free throws to make it a one-possession game. In need of a huge defensive series, the Eagles played solid and forced Payne into a miss. Unfortunately, the errant attempt was snagged by Rio Grande’s Sydney Holden. Forced to foul, the Lady Eagles could only watch as she drained both with 6.9 seconds remaining to finally seal the victory for the home squad.

For Alice Lloyd (24-5), which saw their nine-game win streak come to an end, they were led by Hall with 22 points, which includes an outstanding 14-16 charity tosses. She added 7 rebounds. Clifton finished with a solid 20 points and added 8 rebounds and 4 big blocks. Miranda Wilson added 15 points on 6-10 attempts (3-4 threes) and led the club with 9 rebounds while junior center Emilie Harrell chipped in 10 points and 2 blocks. Kayla Wilson led the way with 5 assists.

On the night, they shot 43.3 (26-60) from the field, 34.6% (9-26) from deep, and a solid 78.6% (11-14) from the foul line. They added 37 rebounds, 16 assists, and 5 steals.

Payne led Rio (30-3), which had five players hit double digits, with 22 points. The winners shot 47.4 (36-76) from the field, 36.8% (7-19 from deep and a solid 82.8% (23-28) from the line. They added 41 rebounds, 23 assists, and 14 steals.

Both teams will represent the River States Conference in the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament, which begins next Wednesday at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. First-round pairings for the tourney will be announced Wednesday, at 7 p.m. The online selection show can be viewed here