The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats got off to a slow start against Northwestern College in the opening round game of the NAIA National Championship Tournament and fell 82-69 in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Red Raiders entered the tournament with an 18-10 record but had started the season 0-6. Going 18-4 the rest of the season, Northwestern had the upper hand with more game experience and a solid run of momentum, carrying them into the post-season. The Lady Cats (8-2) struggled to get things going on either end of the floor early in the contest and the Red Raiders capitalized. Northwestern started the game on a 5-0 run before Annie Noah would put the Lady cats on the board. The Red Raiders continued their aggressive ball pressure defense throughout the quarter and held the Lady Cats down offensively. At the first break, Northwestern Led the Lady Cats 20-12.
Northwestern used Lady Cat turnovers combined with second chance points to control the second quarter as well. Early foul trouble added to the Lady Cat Woes and the Red Raiders would take a 41-20 lead into the intermission. Annie Noah led the way for the Lady Cats in the first half with eight points and five rebounds but the offense was out of sync and in dire need of adjustments.
The Lady Cats came out of the locker room knowing they had their work cut out for them over the next 20 minutes of play. Annie Noah started things off with a quick basket in the paint followed by a Michelle Gabani two. The Red Raiders would answer, however, and continue to maintain their lead. Kyra Hardesty would connect on two free throws with 5:18 left in the third to cut the lead to 50-32 and a Grace Steiger bucket would make it 50-34 with 4:26 remaining. With 2:34 on the clock in the third quarter, Jordan Wersinger sank two free throws and a two-point basket. Madi Braden drove for a layup and the Lady Cats had some much-needed momentum cutting the lead to 54-40. Braden and Wersinger would team up for four more points and Kayley Frank connected on two free throws and the third quarter would end, 58-46 Northwestern.
The fourth quarter would be an exciting quarter for Lady Cat fans as the momentum had turned and the stage was set for a comeback. Madi Braden would start the scoring for the Lady Cats with a drive and basket. The Lady Cats would tighten down the defense and Jordan Wersinger would light the fire with a 6-1 run of her own to cut the lead to seven, 61-54. That’s as close as the Lady cats would get as Northwestern scored and called a timeout to regroup. The Red Raiders began putting points on the board to regain the momentum but Wersinger continued to answer with back-to-back threes to keep the deficit at eight, 72-64, with 4:43 remaining. The Lady Cats hit a cold spell offensively and the Red Raiders began adding to their lead. Grace Steiger connected on a free throw, Kayley Frank would sink two of her own, and Katie Mayes would hit a two to finish off the Lady Cats scoring and end the game falling 82-69.
The Lady Cats were led by Jordan Wersinger with 27 points. Annie Noah added 12, Kayley Frank chipped in nine, Madi Braden and Katie Mayes each added six, Michelle Gabani four, Grace Steiger three and Kyra Hardesty added two.
The Lady Cats season ends, finishing 8-2. While the shortened season created a wide variety of challenges, this group persevered and continued to push through to the end. There were a lot of positive gains and the Lady Cats are looking forward to a bright future ahead.