The Lady Cats shooting struggles continued Wednesday in the opening round of the NCCAA National Championship Tournament. Coming off arguably their poorest shooting game of the season in the Regional Championship, the Lady Cats struggled once again to open the tournament in Winona Lake Indiana.
Facing the NCAA Division II Redhawks of Roberts Wesleyan College, the Lady Cats struggled out of the gate and could never get in a groove. RWC opened the scoring and Annie Noah answered for the Lady Cats. A Redhawk three made it 5-2 and things would only go downhill from there. With 6:47 to go in the opening frame, the Lady Cats found themselves in a 13-5 hole. A Michelle Gabani jumper cut into the deficit but RWC was quick to respond. The teams traded baskets from there until the 1:28 mark when RWC scored the final six points to take a 23-15 lead into the first break.
Jordan Wersinger drained a deep three to open the scoring in the second quarter and it looked like the Lady Cats had the spark they needed. A pair of dry Lady Cat possessions were answered by a Redhawk three and the lead was back to eight, 26-18. A Kayley Frank free throw cut the deficit to seven, but a 6-0 run extended the gap to 13, the largest of the game. An Annie Noah layup cut the gap to 11, 32-21 with 3:19 to go in the half and things were not clicking for the Lady Cat offense. A Noah basket was answered by five straight Redhawk points to end the half and the Lady Cats trailed 37-23 at the intermission.
With cold shooting for the Lady Cats being the main story line, things needed to heat up quick in the second half for the tide to change. It was not to be as a Kyra Hardesty three was all the Lady Cats could get on the board in the first 4:05 of the half. The Redhawks, on the other hand, continued to apply pressure and had built a 48-28 advantage. A Blythe Benefield layup and free throw broke the dry spell but RWC was not letting up. With 3:48 remaining in the third quarter, the Redhawks hit a three to post their biggest lead, 53-31. The Lady Cats continued to keep pace but could not claw back to make up any ground. RWC continued to fight off the Lady Cat challenges and took a 58-37 advantage into the final quarter break.
Annie Noah drilled a deep three to open the fourth quarter and Kayley Frank scored to cut the gap to 16, 58-42. It looked as though the Lady Cats could grab some momentum and get back into contention. RWC quickly responded, however, and extended their lead back to 21 with 6:00 left to play. A Jordan Wersinger three along with a pair of free throws cut the gap back to 16, but RWC responded again. At the 3:02 mark, a pair of Benefield free throws along with a two and a three by Wersinger capped off a 7-0 run to get within 13, 69-56. As the number in the score column went up, however, the numbers on the clock went down. With :49 remaining, a pair of Redhawk free throws iced the game and the final score, 71-56.
Shooting 28.8% from the field and 18.5% from three, the Lady Cats never could get on track offensively. Annie Noah and Jordan Wersinger led the way with 17 points each, the only two Lady Cats in double figures. Blythe Benefield added eight points to the cause while Kayley Frank chipped in seven. Kyra Hardesty tacked on three and Michelle Gabani and Katie Mayes each added two.
The Lady Cats will be back in action at 11:00 am Thursday as they take on University of Northwestern in the second-round consolation bracket.