Facing some of the top NAIA competition in the nation over the weekend, the Lady Cats split their two games in the Sterling College Classic. Facing the #13 ranked Sterling Warriors Thursday, and the #3 ranked Morningside University Mustangs Friday, the Lady Cats knew they would have their hands full and a challenging couple of games.
C of O vs Sterling College – Thursday, November 3
With four Lady Cats scoring in double figures and Annie Noah recording yet another double-double, C of O used a strong fourth quarter to overtake the host Warriors of Sterling College. The Lady Cats got off to a slow start and Sterling jumped out to an early 10-2 lead. Kayley Frank ignited the Lady Cat offense to score the first eight Lady Cat points, on her way to a game high 26. Stevi Jones and Annie Noah put points on the board to keep the Lady Cats close, before the Warriors posted a 5-0 run to go up 11, 26-15. Frank, Jordan Wersinger, and Noah sparked a slight comeback and Taylor Rush hit a pair of free throws to cut the gap to 29-22 at the quarter break.
A Taylor Rush three started the scoring in the second quarter and a pair of free throws from the hands of Isabel Rohlfing put the Lady Cats back in contention. Trailing 30-27, a jumper by Blythe Benefield cut the gap to 30-29 and her layup at the 5:27 mark, combined with the Lady Cat defense, gave C of O their first lead, 31-30. The lead was short lived as Kali Briar connected from long range to put the Warriors back on top, but the Lady Cats were on the prowl. The two teams traded baskets and a deep three by Avery Arnold cut the deficit to 39-38 with 1:56 remaining in the half. Sterling continued to hold the upper hand and took a 45-41 lead to the locker room at the half.
Stevi Jones and Kayley Frank opened the second half scoring, and the Lady Cats regained the lead 46-45. Sterling answered but a Jordan Wersinger traditional three-point play and another Wersinger layup put the Lady Cats up by their largest margin, 51-47. The battle intensified as time ticked off the clock. Trading jabs back and forth, the Warriors took the lead at the 3:39 mark, 55-53. The lead would hold until Taylor Rush tied it with a three and a Wersinger jumper put the Lady Cats back ahead, 62-60, with 1:48 left in the third. A Pair of Frank free throws put the Lady Cats up 66-61 after three and the next 10 minutes was sure to be a battle.
The fourth quarter did not disappoint as the two teams challenged each other throughout. The Lady Cats used back-to-back threes from Taylor Rush and a Kayley Frank layup to build an eight-point advantage, 74-66. Sterling answered but a Katie Mayes three held the Warriors at bay. A quick 6-0 Sterling run forced a Lady Cat timeout, and it was clear this game would go down to the wire. Sterling tied the score, 77-77 at the 5:58 mark but the Lady Cats continued to respond to the challenges. A Frank three broke another tie at the 4:13 mark and the Lady Cats maintained their slight advantage. A Sterling free throw with 1:39 on the clock cut the Lady Cat lead to 88-87 and Coach Becky Mullis called a timeout to strategize for the final stretch. Both teams clamped down defensively and the Warriors were forced to foul with :13 left to play. Lady Cat freshman, Avery Arnold stepped to the line and drained both free throws to put the Lady Cats up 90-87. A pair of desperation threes bounced off the rim as time expired and the Lady Cats held on to defeat Sterling, 90-87.
Kayley Frank led all scorers with 26 points and Annie Noah recorded a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Lady Cats. Taylor Rush connected on four threes and scored 16 points while Jordan Wersinger added 15 in the win. Stevi Jones tacked on six points, Avery Arnold added five, Blythe Benefield four, Katie Mayes three, and Isabel Rohlfing contributed two.
C of O vs Morningside University – Friday, November 4
After the hard-fought battle the night before, The Lady Cats would have to handle the quick turnaround to face the #3 ranked team in the NAIA, the Morningside Mustangs.
The question of which team had fresh legs, was answered quickly. Morningside jumped out to an early 9-3 lead and the Lady Cats were playing catch-up. Shots were not falling, and the Lady Cats were unable to hold down the explosive offense of the Mustangs. By the 2:39 mark in the opening frame, the Mustangs held a commanding 18-3 lead. A Kayley Frank jumper broke through at the 1:42 mark and a pair of Taylor Rush free throws would be all the offense for the Lady Cats in the first. The Mustangs took a 22-7 advantage into the quarter break and the Lady Cats had work to do.
An Avery Arnold three opened the second quarter scoring and the Lady Cats were looking to get things going. Morningside continued to answer the Lady Cat challenges but C of O kept battling. The basket was still elusive on the Lady Cat end while the defense was continuing to work hard to hold the Mustangs back. With shots still not going down, the Lady Cats trailed the talented Mustangs 41-19 at the half.
Wersinger, Benefield, and Rush put points on the board in the opening five minutes of the third frame and the Lady Cat defense found the answer to the Mustang offense. The teams traded baskets until a trio of free throws by Kayley Frank cut the gap to 46-30, with 3:31 remaining in the quarter. The Mustangs answered the challenge again, and the quarter ended with the Mustang lead standing at 54-32.
The Lady Cats had matched the play of the Mustangs in the third quarter, but it would take a fierce comeback to give them a chance. The fourth quarter picked up where the third left off. The two teams amped up the defensive effort and baskets were traded to begin the frame. Neither team could score through the middle segment of the quarter. Kayley Frank broke the ice for the Lady Cats with a basket at the 3:43 mark and a Katie Mayes three-point play cut the gap to 65-45. Blythe Benefield would finish off the Lady Cat scoring at the 1:10 mark, and the game would end with the Mustangs leading 67-46.
While the game was put too far out of reach in the opening quarter, the Lady Cats competed and matched the play of the Mustangs in the final three frames. The end result was less than desirable, yet the Lady Cats gained valuable experience and will take the positives from the final three frames to build on.
The Lady Cats were led by Blythe Benefield and Kayley Frank with 12 points each. Katie Mayes added seven and Jordan Wersinger tacked on six in the cause. Taylor Rush chipped in five, Avery Arnold two, and Annie Noah scored one, to go with her 12 rebounds.
The Lady Cats have their home opener Tuesday, November 8 at 5 PM against Lyon College.