Print by: RUSSELL HEITMANN
Photos by: SARAH MINDRUP
Video by: MCKENZIE WEDEL and AUSTIN REMM
Monday, March 16 saw something that hasn’t happened since 2003, and likely won’t be repeated for some time: a national semi-final that featured four teams representing the same conference—the GPAC. No. 1 seeds Morningside and Concordia, No. 3 Hastings College and No. 5 Briar Cliff of the Great Plains Athletic Conference entered the Tyson Events Center on Monday with hopes of advancing for a chance to cut down the nets. Morningside took care of business in a thrilling first game, defeating Hastings College 66-63.
After trailing at the half, the Chargers got back into it on a Slone Masters three-pointer with 18:06 remaining, pulling Briar Cliff to within one. A layup by Jessi Corrick on the successive possession gave them their first lead of the second half.
Briar Cliff would retake the lead again on back to back three-point jump shots from Emily Kay, the first to tie the game 43-43 and the second to go ahead 46-45 with 13 minutes left.
Concordia’s Jerrica Pearson scored six straight over this stretch with her layup at 12:28 giving the Bulldogs the lead once again 47-46. Bailey Morris added a three-pointer of her own to push the lead to 50-46 on the next trip down for Concordia.
Pearson and Kay would continue going back and forth, as a pair of Pearson layups sandwiched a Kay three-pointer. Concordia led 54-52 at the end of the offensive flurry just after the second media timeout.
Going into the final media timeout, Concordia led 63-56 and didn’t look back as Morris knocked in back to back threes, giving the Bulldogs a 69-56 lead.
Concordia Head Coach Drew Olson had some simple but inspiring words for his team to spark this run.
“I just told them I love them,” Olson said. “They’re a team that always finds a way to win. They always make the plays so I had the confidence that they were going to pull it out.”
Olson also credits the interior play of Pearson as well as the outside shooting of Morris and the rest of his team as to why the Bulldogs pulled away.
“It was huge. Jerrica was awesome, she just kept making plays inside,” Olson said. “We’re a great shooting team and against a zone, eventually we feel like we’re going to crack it. We just had to keep shooting and eventually the dam broke there at the end.”
The Bulldogs entered the game using a balanced attack that has worked all tournament long. The Bulldogs utilized their multiple offensive weapons, including Morris, who reached 2,000 career points against Jamestown in order to get to the semi-finals.
Briar Cliff, however, has relied on a gritty zone defense to march through an even grittier schedule to get to this point. The Chargers had to get through previously unbeaten No. 1 Davenport to get to the semifinals.
While the Charger’s zone has been difficult to crack for some, Concordia found a way. Briar Cliff Head Coach Mike Power credits their shot-making for allowing the Bulldogs to pull away.
“Bailey hit some clutch shots late that went deep into the shot clock,” Power said. “I was really happy with the fact that we had a chance to bounce back and make a game of it. We’ve been really good at grinding it out and finding a way to win at the end and tonight we just didn’t find a way.”
Briar Cliff’s wild ride to the semi-finals comes to an end, but Power is very proud of his seniors and his team and had some sound advice for them in the locker room.
“I was telling them just how proud I was; they sacrificed a lot to be successful,” Power said. “There’s a lot of heartbroken kids in there. My heart goes out to them but I told them that these memories will be with you for the rest of your life.”
The game started as many tournament games before it have been—ugly. Concordia held a 1-0 lead until the 16:19 mark. The Bulldog’s lead would grow to 6-4 going into the first media timeout.
This lead would slowly increase as the half went on as Concordia utilized timely three-point shots and an advantage on the boards to pull away from Briar Cliff, leading 34-27 at the break. The Bulldogs hit five three-pointers opposed to two for the Chargers. Concordia also out-rebounded Briar Cliff 25-15 at the half.
Becky Mueller ended with a game high 18 points for Concordia. Morris (12) and Pearson (13), along with Tracy Peitz (13) and Mary Janovich (14), also ended in double figures for the Bulldogs.
For Briar Cliff, Masters scored a team high 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds but was the only Charger in double figures. Kay ended with nine points while Corrick added eight.
With Concordia’s victory, it sets up a very intriguing national championship matchup.
The old saying is it’s tough to play and beat a team three times, but what about four? The Concordia Bulldogs and Morningside Mustangs are now primed for their fourth meeting of the season. The two teams met twice in the regular season: Morningside winning twice, resulting in the Bulldogs’ only two losses. However, in the GPAC tournament championship Concordia would exact some revenge, defeating the Mustangs 80-72 to claim the conference crown.
Now the Bulldogs and Mustangs are going to duke it out on an even bigger stage, the NAIA Division II Women’s National Championship. When asked how the game will go based on their three previous matchups, Olson didn’t know what to expect.
“I have no idea,” Olson said. “We know each other so well. We know what they’re going to do and they know what we’re going to do. It’s going to be a great battle.”
The championship game between Morningside and Concordia is scheduled for a 7:05 tip-off and can be seen live on ESPN3.
Catch up on previous game recaps:
Round 1, Concordia (Neb): No. 1 Concordia (Neb.) – 76 vs. No. 8 Bryan (Tenn.) – 35
Bulldogs Avenge Previous First Rounds Losses, Defeats Bryan
Round 3, Concordia (Neb): No. 1 Concordia (Neb.) – 76 vs. No. 3 Jamestown (Mich.) – 59
Bulldogs Complete Season Sweep of Jimmies, Advance to Semis
Round 2, Briar Cliff (Iowa): No. 1 Davenport (Mich.) – 53 vs. No. 5 Briar Cliff (Iowa) – 55
Briar Cliff charges to Quarterfinals, defeats undefeated Panthers