BY AUSTIN PENFIELD
PHOTOS BY BRIANNA TUREK
VIDEO BY AUSTIN DRUSE AND JOSEPH BROWN
A full forty minutes were required to decide the final participant in the 2015 NAIA Division II Women’s semifinal round when No. 1 Saint Xavier and No. 3 Hastings College met in the quarterfinal match, providing one of the best games the championship has seen so far.
After a controversial couple of closing seconds, Hastings was awarded a 68-67 win and have advanced to the semifinals of the tournament.
Down by four with 1.8 seconds on the clock, Bob Hallberg called a timeout for Saint Xavier to draw up one last possession.
On the pursuing play, the ball was inbounded to freshman Kara Krolicki from the right wing; she turned and hit a jumper from beyond the arc over tight defense from a Bronco defender as the buzzer sounded.
A whistle could be heard, which led many to believe a shooting foul may have been called—meaning a pending free throw could force overtime—but the officials indicated there was no foul on the play and the final would stand as a Hastings one-point victory.
“It was a little scary,” said Hastings head coach Carrie Hofstetter on the final play. “I was holding my breath. I probably should have called timeout actually, [but] I wanted us to foul on the catch to make sure [Saint Xavier] didn’t get a four point play. It was close.”
Krolicki finished as the Cougars’ leading scorer with 19 points. Morgan Stuut, Saint Xavier’s leading scorer and rebounder throughout the tournament, was held to 8 points and 6 rebounds.
Jamie Van Kirk was the leading scorer for the Broncos with a game high 21 points.
However, the bench scoring had a bigger impact on the contest’s outcome.
Despite not having a second of playing time in the national tournament, Abigail Niebrugge scored 11 points off the bench for Hastings, going 5-7 (1-1 3PT) from the field, which proved instrumental in the win.
“Abigail Niebrugge was phenomenal today,” said Hofstetter. “Nothing like being thrown into the fire having not played one minute in the national tournament, but she did a phenomenal job and we’ve known all year she’s really good.”
“She had to work hard and just wait for her opportunities and she’s been a great teammate,” Hofstetter continued. “She got an opportunity tonight and she probably was the hero of the game, really.”
Saint Xavier led 31-26 at half, but may have led by an even greater margin if Hastings hadn’t kept the Cougars from scoring in transition, forcing them to work their half-court offense.
Offensive rebounds also played a big part in the Broncos’ ability to stick around with 11 in the first 20 minutes, compared to Saint Xavier’s 4. Sierra Williamson had three of those and had four total boards at the break, finishing with a game-high 12 overall.
A Chelsea Morton triple opened up the second half for the Broncos and a Michaela Barry three-pointer brought Hastings to within three, 36-33.
Saint Xavier stretched their lead to eight by working the low-post with just under 13 minutes to play, but Van Kirk’s offensive effectiveness kept Hastings within striking distance.
Three minutes later, with 9:45 to play, Barry tied the game off of a couple of made free-throws and then Halley Samuelson made a corner jumper from three-point land to give the Broncos’ their first lead of the second half, 48-45.
Krolicki tied the game back up at 50 with a three-pointer about a minute later, but Barry answered with a three of her own for the final lead change of the match. Barry finished with 15 points.
Hastings’ biggest lead came with 1:42 to play, after a Van Kirk jumper put the Broncos up 68-59.
Saint Xavier rattled off eight consecutive points, included Krolicki’s buzzer-beating three, but weren’t able to ruin the Bronco’s title run.
The four semifinal spots of the tournament are now all taken by schools from the Great Plains Athletic Conference, something that hasn’t done since Hofstetter was a member of the Hastings squad in 2003.
The Broncos now face the Morningside Mustangs—a team they’ve yet to beat despite facing them twice this year—something Hofstetter believes will be a favorable match up for her players.
“We’ve seen them a couple times which I think is beneficial,” said Hofstetter. “I think it’s hard to see Morningside for the first time and really execute well against them.”
Tip off for Morningside and Hastings is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. Monday night and can be seen on ESPN3.
Catch up on previous game recaps:
Round 1, Saint Xavier (Ill): No. 1 Saint Xavier (Ill.) – 79 vs. No. 8 Oregon Tech – 50
Saint Xavier Clobbers Oregon Tech in Final First Round Game
Round 2, Hastings (Neb): No. 3 Hastings (Neb.) – 48 vs. No. 7 Ashford (Iowa) – 37
Barry and Broncos Upend Saints, Heading to Quarter Finals