PHOTOS BY ALLYSON PELCHAT
VIDEO BY ANNA LICHTI AND MASON LINDBLOOM
The University of Saint Francis came into the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship with a 33-0 overall record and a first-seed ranking, and the Cougars held onto their undefeated record with a 68-64 victory over Cardinal Stritch University in the semifinals. This is the Cougars’ fifteenth appearance in the national championship and their second time in the finals.
Neither team scored in the first few minutes, but although St. Francis put up the first points, Cardinal Stritch kept up the pressure and tied the game early in the first half. However, the Cougars regained and stretched the lead to 13 with 11:23 left in the half. Cardinal Stritch fought back and closed the gap to end the half 43-35 in favor of the Cougars.
At the half, senior Kalah Baer of St. Francis led both teams with 12 points and six rebounds, tying with teammate Paige Frisch for points. Cardinal Strich’s Emily Neitzel put up eight points and also grabbed five rebounds to lead her team.
The second half began with a foul of St. Francis’ Skylarr Shurn, who took the opportunity to sink two free throws. The Wolves responded with an 8-0 run to bring the score to 45-43 with 14:32 remaining. Shurn broke the run after being fouled to sink another three free throws. Cardinal Stritch tied up the game with 13:06 left on the clock.
After a drive by Cardinal Stritch, St. Francis’ Brooke Ridley was taken out of the game due to an injury. Play resumed after she left the court, St. Francis taking the opportunity to take back the lead.
“I got a little more nervous [when she went down],” said Janelle Wilson, Cougars’ senior guard. “Brooke is a very big key player to our team so when she went down that obviously made me nervous, but we had Emily [Montgomery] and Bri [Rinehart] step up and they definitely played well and filled in her position for her.”
The Cougars continued to hold onto the lead throughout the remainder of the second half.
Cardinal Stritch’s Michelle Peipenburg and St. Francis’ Baer led the teams with 16 points apiece, followed closely by Cardinal Stritch’s Becky Gilbreath and St. Francis’ Frisch and Jenelle Wilson with 15 points each.
The Cougars will face the winner of the game between Davenport University and College of the Ozarks for the championship title tomorrow night at 7 p.m.
Catch up on previous game recaps:
Quarterfinals: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Southwestern (Kan.) – Cougars Claw Their Way into the Semifinals
Quarterfinals: Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) vs. Morningside (Iowa) – Last GPAC School Falls, Cardinal Stritch Wins 82-71
Round 2: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Siena Heights (Mich.) – Cougars Pounce into Quarterfinals
Round 2: Cardinal Stritch (Iowa) vs. Jamestown (N.D.) – Wolves Take Down No. 1 Jimmies 76-54
Round 1: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Ashford (Iowa) – No Miracle for the Saints
Round 1: Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) vs. St. Ambrose (Iowa) – Cardinal Stritch Pulls Ahead to Second Round