BY AUSTIN DRUSE
PHOTOS BY BRIANNA TUREK
VIDEO BY AUSTIN PENFIELD & JOSEPH BROWN
The Tyson Center filled up quickly before tonight’s game as it was preceded by the NAIA’s presentation of all 32 qualifying teams in their Parade of Champions, among the Sioux City residents on site to cheer for the hometown Mustangs.
Morningside’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder, Ashlynn Muhl, did not make the trip due to an emergency appendectomy. Muhl averages 12.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in her senior campaign.
“Obviously you can’t lose your best player and have it not affect you…we’re not gonna make up for her with just one person, she’s too good of a player,” Morningside head coach Jamie Sale said.
The one-two punch of Taylor Bahensky and Jessica Tietz filled in for Muhl, dominating the first half. Bahensky led all scorers at the break with 12 points, shooting 4-6 from the field and 2-2 from 3-point range. Tietz scored 11 in the first half, and shot 5-5 from the field. Bahensky finished with 19 points on 7-9 FG and Tietz finished with 16 points and shot 7-7 FG, adding 6 rebounds.
“Everyone wants to beat that team that gets it,” Bahensky said when asked about overcoming the pressure of being the No. 1 overall seed.
The Mustangs utilized a 2-3 zone half-court trap effectively, forcing UC Merced into committing 20 turnovers. On the other end, UC Merced forced 14 turnovers.
“We like to run a zone with man principles and pressure,” Sale said. “We just feel that we have long, athletic players and a lot of depth.”
The Bobcats ranked 12th in NAIA DII in scoring defense per game, allowing 57.44 points per game on the season. The Bobcats also are ranked 16th in NAIA DII in steals per game with 11, but only stole the ball four times against the Mustangs.
This was the first appearance for UC Merced in their program’s three-year history.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience for all of us…I never thought we’d be here in three seasons,” UC Merced head coach Kevin Pham said.
The Bobcats second-leading scorer and integral part of the offense coming into tonight’s game was freshman Christina Castro, but she was limited to just three points, shooting 1-7 in the first half. Castro finished the game with six points, shooting 2-11 from the floor.
“We know what we’re working for now, we know how hard we are gonna have to work and what we are gonna have to do to get back here again,” Castro said.
Morningside will moves on to play the winner of the No. 4 seed Eastern Oregon and No. 5 seed Oklahoma Wesleyan on Friday, March 13th at 7:00 pm.