The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats scored 85 points and pulled down 65 rebounds on their way to the A.I.I. Conference Tournament Championship Saturday afternoon against the Crowley’s Ridge Lady Pioneers. For the 20th consecutive season, the Lady Cats are headed to the NAIA National Championship Tournament, and a deep run is still the goal.
The Lady Cats scored the first two points when Michelle Gabani took the ball inside for two. Octavia Lowery would tie the game with a basket in the paint and it appeared a tight contest was in store. Annie Noah put the Lady Cats on top once more with a two inside, but the Pioneers’ Kianna Hardaway answered on the other end. Kayley Frank entered the scoring column with a two at the 6:32 mark and the Lady Cats led 6-4. A three by Octavia Lowery would give the Pioneers their only lead of the game but it was short-lived. 14 seconds later, Annie Noah put the Lady Cats on top for good with a jumper in the paint, 8-7. The Lady Cats turned up the defense and limited opportunities the rest of the way and began to pull away. At the end of the first quarter, C of O led 19-14.
The Pioneers would stay close through the first seven minutes of the second quarter. A basket by Jordan Wersinger with 3:30 remaining would begin an 11-3 run to end the half. Grace Steiger, Madi Braden, and Kayley Frank would team up with Wersinger to build the lead and and the Lady Cats would go into the locker room leading 38-23.
The Lady Cats were too much for the Pioneers to handle in the second half and the lead would continue to grow. A Kyra Hardesty three and a Wersinger two to start the half would put the Lady Cats up by 20, 43-23. With 2:57 remaining in the third, the Pioneers had only manged five points in the period and the Lady Cats did not let up. With baskets by Wersinger, Noah, Braden, Steiger, and Katie Mayes, the lead was 62-35 after three and the Lady Cats were well in control.
Like the third quarter, the fourth was all Lady Bobcats. Defense, rebounds, and consistent scoring kept adding to the Lady Cats lead. Holding the Pioneers to 19 percent shooing from the field, and grabbing nearly every rebound, the Lady Bobcats put together a 12-4 run to start the quarter and the A.I.I. Championship well within reach. Crowley’s Ridge would sting together several baskets down the stretch but it was too little, too late and the Lady Cats would cruise to the 85-46 win and the A.I.I. championship.
Coach Becky Mullis stated, “I’m so proud of our team. This has been a challenging year in many ways, but this group has been resilient. They have improved tremendously in such a short time. I’m proud of their heart, will to win, and positive attitudes. This is a good lesson for life. Challenges must be met head on. These ladies have done that. I’m honored to be their coach and proud we continued the tradition of Lady Cat Basketball making a trip to the NAIA National Tournament for the 20th straight season.”
The Lady Cats were led by Madi Braden with 21 points. Jordan Wersinger continued her solid scoring with 18, while Kayley Frank, Annie Noah, and Katie Mayes each added nine. Michelle Gabani chipped in eight, Grace Steiger added six, and Kyra Hardesty contributed five. Kayley Frank pulled down 13 rebounds, while Annie Noah recorded eight. Four Lady Cats had seven rebounds and the team outrebounded the Pioneers, 65-37.
The Lady Cats advance to the NAIA National Championship Tournament opening round which will be held March 12-13 at a site yet to be determined.