Lexi Ackerman connected on a pair of free throws with 2 seconds left as Morningside earned its fourth National Championship, defeating fellow GPAC school Concordia 59-57 in what was the closest championship game in NAIA DII history. Bailey Morris heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer that missed as Concordia moved to 1-3 against the Mustangs this season.
Morningside finishes the season 37-1, with their only loss coming to Concordia in the GPAC Championship Game while Concordia ends the season at 35-3 with all three losses coming at the hands of the Mustangs.
Concordia led throughout the first half and by as many as 12 points with 5:25 remaining before halftime. The Mustangs closed that gap down to six at the intermission as Concordia led 30-24 at the break. Ackerman gave the Mustangs their first lead of the game as she hit on one of her five free throws made in the game with 12:17 left. The game remained close the rest of the way as neither team led by more than four points the rest of the way.
Morningside shot poorly in the game, at just 29% from the floor and under 15% from beyond the arc. However, they were able to capitalize on 20 turnovers for the Bulldogs and convert them into 15 points. The Mustangs turned the ball over just 9 times in the game.
Captain of the All-Tournament team Jessica Tietz nearly had a double-double by halftime and finished the game with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Morningside head coach Jamie Sale was pleased with how Tietz stepped up in the tournament.
“She just stepped up huge for us. She was put in a situation where she had to because of Ashlynn coming out,” Sale said. “We always knew Jess was a great player and it was just a matter of her getting her opportunity and when she did, she made the most of it and she deserved the MVP.”
“We just come back together as one,” Tietz said. “When we’re struggling, we’ll get together, we’ll nit-pick at all the things we’re doing wrong and ultimately we dig down deep. Ashlynn brought us together and we did it for her.”
Ashlynn Muhl, who missed playing in the tournament due to a medical situation, was back on the sidelines to cheer on her teammates in the win.
“I was like ‘You guys better come home with a trophy otherwise I’m going to be very disappointed,’” Muhl said. “So that’s what I wanted. They all came out and they worked for it, a lot of people stepped up and they deserved it, they won it. I could not be happier.”
NAIA DII National Player of the Year Bailey Morris finished her career with 14 points and 8 assists as she ended the game with 2,054 career points. Tracy Peitz led the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points and added 8 rebounds while Kelsey Hizer nearly finished with a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds.
For Concordia head coach Drew Olson, losing this group of seniors will mean much more than losing good basketball players.
“I just told them how blessed I was to be with those 6 seniors and how much I love them and how much they meant to me and this program,” Olson said. “I’ll probably remember their personalities a whole lot more than them as players; how much joy that I had coaching each one of them and how much better they made my life to go to work every day and that’s why their such a special group.”