The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats traveled to Bethany Oklahoma Friday for the NCCAA Central Regional Championship. A rare cold shooting night was more than the Lady Cats could overcome and Southwestern Christian took the contest, 62-49.
The Lady Cats jumped on the board early with an Annie Noah basket, but the Eagles quickly responded. The Lady Cat offense struggled to get going and Southwestern Christian began to heat up. As the Eagles began to pull away, Coach Mullis called a timeout to rally the troops. Trailing 13-2 with 3:09 remaining in the opening frame the signal was clear, it was time to regroup. A Kyra Hardesty three with :52 left in the quarter closed out the scoring and the Lady Cats were in a deep hole, 19-5 at the break.
The Eagles started the scoring in the second quarter and the Lady Cats were not able to respond until a three by Katie Mayes with 8:29 left in the half. Kyra Hardesty scored at the 7:03 mark and another dry spell began. The Lady Cat defense stepped, however, and kept the gap from growing further. Kayley Frank drained a pair of free throws and Annie Noah connected inside to cut into the lead, but the Eagles responded. A pair of Frank free throws with :03 left in the half cut the gap to 31-16 and the Lady Cats had work to do.
The Eagles opened the scoring in the third quarter and Blythe Benefield answered for the Lady Cats. The teams traded baskets until a 6-0 run by the Eagles took things from bad to worse. Trailing 42-20 with 4:09 left in the third quarter, the Lady Cats needed another timeout. Kayley Frank and Michelle Gabani scored four unanswered points, but the Eagles came back with six straight of their own. Neither team scored as time ran down in the third quarter until Annie Noah connected on a free throw with :10 remaining. The final break c[CP1] ame and the Lady Cat deficit was 48-25.
The fourth quarter saw the Lady Cats continuing to claw their way back into contention. With the large deficit, things were not looking good for the final 10 minutes. The teams traded points early in the quarter, but a 13-2 Lady Cat run made things interesting and the Eagles needed a timeout. An Andrade Thamires basket broke the SWCU silence and another pair of free throws extended the lead. Annie Noah, Blythe Benefield, and Kayley Frank combined to close out the Lady Cat scoring. Unfortunately, the deficit from the opening quarter and the struggles from the field were too much to overcome. In what was arguably one of the roughest shooting nights for the Lady Cats in a long time, the 14-47 from the field, 5-11 from three, and 16-25 from the line is something not likely to be seen again for another long stretch.
Kayley Frank led the Lady Cats with 16 points. Annie Noah chipped in nine and Blythe Benefield contributed seven. Kyra Hardesty, Katie Mayes, and Stevi Jones each tacked on five and Michelle Gabani added two.
The Lady Cat’s NCCAA power rating is number four in the nation which makes them strong favorites to receive an At-Large bid to the NCCAA DI National Championship Tournament. The tournament will be played in Winona Lake, Indiana March 16-19. More information will be forthcoming once the tournament field is released.