Advance to River States Conference Championship Finals and Assure Second Consecutive trip to NAIA Nationals
Pippa Passes, KY: The Alice Lloyd College Lady Eagles hosted the Indiana University East Lady Red Wolves in the Women’s River States Conference Basketball Championship Semi-Finals. The Lady Red Wolves fought back from a double-figure deficit to take a late lead, only to see the Lady Eagles come through in the clutch and win a thrilling 81-74 victory.
ALC Coach John Mills’ club hosted the Lady Red Wolves in the only regular-season meeting between the two squads on January 5th. In that contest, the Pippa Passes team led entering the final stanza, before faltering late in a 71 – 66 IUE win.
Flash forward to Saturday, February 23rd. The Lady Eagles came into the contest as the #1 seed in the Western Division and winners of seven straight games. IU East entered as the #2 seed in the Eastern Division and winners of five of their last seven contests.
In the opening quarter, Alice Lloyd came ready to play. Leading 6-5, the trio of senior guard Courtney Vasquez, junior guard Katie Moore, and sophomore guard Haley Hall, combined to lead the hosts on a 13-0 blitz, as their team would race out to a 19-5 advantage with 3:35 remaining.
The lead would reach its zenith late in the quarter at sixteen (26-10) following senior center Emilee Harrell’s jumper with .20 remaining. A bomb at the buzzer for Red Wolf guard Niomi Dube set the score at 26-13 after ten minutes of action.
In the second quarter, East received three more trifectas from Dube to get the deficit below double digits, and they would get as close as 38-31 with 4:01 showing. However, ALC would go on a quick 6-0 spurt to creep further ahead. The home squad would then take a 46-35 advantage heading into intermission.
At the half, Coach Mills felt pretty good about his club’s performance. “Our plan was to limit Elizabeth Philpot’s touches inside because a lot of their offense goes through her. I thought we did a fairly good job of that early. We worked hard to get a lead, but I never felt comfortable with it because they are a dangerous team and Dube kept them close with some big shots.”
The third period saw the Lady Red Wolves fight back. On defense, they began to tighten up and make it difficult for the home club to score, and while on offense, guard Addie Brown stuck some big shots. Late in the stanza, her club would draw within one (55-54) following a power-move inside from center Amanda Worland.
Despite the fact that their shooting had gone ice-cold, Lady Eagle Shelby Davis swished a much- needed bomb with .20 remaining to send Alice Lloyd into the final ten minutes nursing a 58-54 cushion.
In the final quarter, the visitors looked to get closer. However, the home fans were happy to see their club finally respond with their own run.
Leading 58-56, Alice Lloyd would see five different players score in a huge 10-1 run. When junior forward Jayla Spurlock connected on a free throw with 4:43 left in the game, it lifted the ladies in white and blue to a 68-57 advantage. Finally, the game appeared to be almost over.
However, with their backs against the wall, the squad from Richmond, Indiana showed their true grit. IU East would see Dube put the team on her back. Over the next two minutes, she would sink two long bombs and add another jumper to spark her club on a spurt of their own.
Incredibly, when Lady Red Wolf forward Addie Brown capped off a 12-0 run by banking in a five-foot leaner in the paint with 2:19 remaining, her squad had their first lead of the night (69-68).
With the crowd stunned by the recent developments, ALC turned to Moore, who delivered. The guard quickly raced down the court and caught East on their heels. Her drive to the hoop put the hometown ladies ahead, 70-69 at 2:10.
East brought the ball down and methodically worked the clock in search of a good look. They found Philpot at 1:40, but her attempt bounced off and was snagged by Alice Lloyd’s Davis.
On their next possession, the Lady Eagles worked the ball until they found Moore. Her quick drive to the bucket resulted in her drawing a foul (1:12), and she sank 1-2 to put her club ahead 71-69.
Coach Mills said when things were looking bleak, he wanted the ball in his junior’s hands. “I felt that Katie had a slight mismatch, and she was able to use her quickness to help us regain the lead when East finally overtook us. On the next possession, her free throw helped settle us down some.”
Naturally IU East refused to go away as they came right back and fed Worland. Her inside moved tied the contest once again (71-71) with exactly .59 seconds left to play.
With time now dwindling and the gym roaring with excitement, ALC saw Spurlock get tripped in the lane with .43 remaining. She calmly drilled both attempts (73-71).
On the most critical possession of the night, East got the ball to the red-hot Dube to take them to the championship game. Fortunately for the Caney Creek faithful, her bomb at the .25 mark went in but spun out, and was ripped down by Alice Lloyd’s Harrell who was quickly fouled. The smooth-shooting center calmly bagged both attempts (75-71).
On the inbound pass, Indiana’s Dube then drew a foul and sank 1-2 charity tosses (75-72). Forced to foul, East put Harrell on the line once more. Much to the crowd’s delight, she was clutch on both (77-72).
After a couple of quick misses by the visitors, teammates Vasquez and Moore slammed the door shut as they closed the contest from the charity stripe by combining to go 4-4. With the game up for grabs in the final minute, the ALC team delivered a perfect 10-10 from the charity stripe to seal the deal, and earn the sweet and satisfying victory.
For the victors (20-8), now winners of eight consecutive games, five players reached double figures in a balanced attack.
They were led on the night by Moore with 18 points. She was followed closely by Harrell and Vasquez, each with 14 points. Harrell played perhaps her best all-around game of the year as she sank 5-9 from the floor, 4-4 from the foul line, and blocked 4 shots. She also completed the double-double by snagging 12 important rebounds. Vasquez finished 9-10 from the foul line and had 2 assists.
Hall finished with 12 points (6-6 FT) and recorded 3 steals, while Spurlock chipped in with 10 points and 6 rebounds. The sophomore duo of Davis (7 points, 7 rebounds) and center Alex Clifton (6 points, 11 rebounds) came up big as well.
Sophomore classmates Mckayla Akers and Ali May helped the cause as well with some timely minutes of the bench. Akers (5 rebounds and 2 blocks) made some big plays while May played hard and suffered a first-half injury, but was able to return in the second half and provide some much-needed relief.
The winners finished the night shooting 35.3% (24-68) from the field including just 15.4 % (2-13) from behind the arc. They sank 79.5% (31-39) from the charity stripe and added 49 rebounds, 7 assists, 8 steals, and 8 blocks.
IUE (14-17) was led by Dube and her game-high 26 points (7-14 3FGA). Her squad shot 30.8% (24-78) from the field and stayed in the game by shooting 41.4% (12-29) from deep. They finished at 77.8% (14-18) from the charity stripe and added 41 rebounds, 10 assists, 7 steals, and 8 blocks.
With the victory, #1 West Division ALC now advances to the RSC Women’s Basketball Finals, where they will face the East Division #1 seed, the West Virginia Tech Lady Golden Bears (23-9) on Tuesday, February 26th, in Beckley, West Virginia. The Lady Golden Bears finished the conference season with only one loss and earned the league’s regular-season championship.
In the only meeting between the two clubs this year, West Virginia Tech hosted the Lady Eagles on January 15th. In a game that ALC led by seven points in the third quarter, Tech roared back to pull out an 81-71 win.
WV Tech had already earned the conferences first automatic bid by winning the regular season title. By virtue of advancing to the championship contest as the division winner, the Lady Eagles have sewn up the second bid before the matchup actually takes place. However, the pride of winning the River States Conference Tournament, not to mention the opportunity of improving the seeding at the NAIA DII National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, makes this contest the most important of the season. A championship matchup between the top two clubs in the conference is only fitting, and the game should be a barnburner.
The Alice Lloyd mentor knows what is at stake in this matchup. “In the scheme of things, the only thing we have won is our division”, said Coach Mills. “Our goal is to go to West Virginia on Tuesday and compete for a championship.” He added, “You have two outstanding teams that will battle to the wire to see which one represents our conference as champion in the nationals. I anticipate a great game.” Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 pm.