The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats wrapped up their regular season Saturday as they traveled up Highway 65 to Baptist Bible College. The Lady Cats went into the game riding an eight-game winning streak and having won 13 of their last 14 contests. The two teams faced off on February 12 and the Lady Cats came away with the 71-63 win in Point Lookout. BBC would definitely be prepared to defend their home court and the Lady Cats knew they would have their work cut out for them.
The Lady Cats were determined to set the tone early and Annie Noah put the first two points on the board to do just that. Harley Maxwell answered for BBC, but Kayley Frank and the Lady Cats took it from there. Frank put the next seven points on the board to give the Lady Cats the early 9-2 lead. The defense continued to hold the Patriots down and threes by Blythe Benefield and Kyra Hardesty were mixed in with baskets from Noah and Katie Mayes to put the Lady Cats up 19-2 with 2:40 remaining in the opening frame. Gabby Adams broke through for the Patriots at the 2:21 mark but Annie Noah answered with a bucket to close out the quarter with the Lady Cats up 21-4. The Patriots needed to regroup, and for BBC fans, the quarter break could not have come soon enough.
BBC was not ready to throw in the towel and they were determined to battle back into contention. A Josie Sullivan two got the Patriot offense going and the teams began to trade baskets. BBC continued to Challenge but the Lady Cats held them at arm’s length. Trading baskets would be the norm over the course of the second quarter and neither team could improve their position. The Patriots efforts to cut into the Lady Cat lead were met by constant resistance. An Annie Noah basket with 1:20 remaining put the Lady Cats up 31-15 and another on the next possession added to the Lady Cat lead. The Patriots were spinning their wheels as C of O took a 33-15 lead into the intermission.
The names Frank and Noah were called over the PA several times in the opening half and the 3rd quarter continued the trend. Noah scored to open the frame and Frank followed a short time later. A 6-0 run by the Patriots between the two Lady Cat baskets cut the gap slightly but a Benefield basket with 6:42 left pushed the lead back to 39-22. A pair of threes by Frank and Hardesty sandwiched a Patriot three and the Lady Cats held their biggest advantage, 45-25 with 4:02 left in the third quarter. Determined to defend their home court, the Patriots began to battle back. A pair of Gabby Adams threes to end the quarter cut the Lady Cat lead to 49-38, with 10 minutes left to play.
The fourth quarter saw the home team turning up the intensity and making things interesting. A traditional three-point play for BBC capped a 9-0 run going back to the third quarter and the Lady Cat lead had been cut to eight, 49-41. The Lady Cats needed a basket in a big way and freshman guard Blythe Benefield answered the call. Draining a deep three, Benefield broke the dry spell to push the lead back to double digits. The teams would trade baskets and the Patriots were fighting to get back within reach. The Lady Cats continued to answer the challenges and a pair of Kayley Frank baskets built the lead back to 12, 57-45, with 5:22 left to play. The 10-12-point margin would be the norm as neither team could gain any traction. A Blythe Benefield basket at the 2:54 mark would be the last field goal for the Lady Cats and the game would be won or lost at the free throw line. Frank, Hardesty and Noah would connect on free throws down the stretch and the best BBC could do was offset the free throws with a couple of threes. The Lady Cats maintained their double-digit lead and recorded the 69-59 win on the road.
Kayley Frank recorded a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds to lead the charge and Annie Noah turned in her 12th double-double of the season with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Blythe Benefield poured in 12 points, Kyra Hardesty added eight, and Katie Mayes chipped in two.
The win extended the Lady Cat streak to nine and gave them the top seed in the NCCAA Regional scheduled for Wednesday and Friday, March 2 & 4, at Southwestern Christian University in Bethany, Oklahoma. The Lady Cats receive a bye and are scheduled to play either SWCU or BBC at 6:00 on Friday for the Regional title.