With a trip to the NCCAA Division I National Championship Tournament on the line, the College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats entered NCCAA Central Region Championship game Saturday as the favorite against Baptist Bible College. The Patriots had upset in mind and the two teams were meeting for the second time in a span of seven days.
The Patriots wasted little time in setting the tone for the contest. After an Annie Noah basket on the first possession of the game, the Patriots rattled off nine unanswered points and held a 9-2 advantage. Kayley Frank broke the Lady Cat silence with a jumper at the 5:17 mark, but BBC quickly responded with a three. The Lady Cats struggled to put points on the board, and relied on Jordan Wersinger, and Susanna Moran to keep the score close. As time ticked away in the opening frame, the Patriots held a 15-9 lead. Taylor Rush scored as time expired and the game went to the quarter break with the Lady Cats trailing 15-11.
The change in quarter did not change the tide for the Lady Cats. BBC continued to apply pressure and the basket remained elusive. Taylor Rush scored at the 7:59 mark, but BBC extended their lead to 23-14, with 5:45 remaining in the half. Wersinger connected for two, but the Patriots answered with a free throw and a three. A Kayley Frank free throw was all the offense the Lady Cats could manage, and the deficit grew to 29-17 by the 2:48 mark. A Blythe Benefield jumper was followed by a basket by Susanna Moran and a Taylor Rush three. The Lady Cats had clawed their way back into contention and now trailed 29-24. The momentum was short lived as a BBC free throw and a three held off the Lady Cat challenge. Susanna Moran connected on a pair of free throws to close out the half, and the Lady Cats trailed 33-26 at the intermission.
Hoping the shooting misfortunes would swing in a positive direction in the second half, the Lady Cats came out ready to go to work. The Patriots scored first with a Cassidy Hambelton three and Jordan Wersinger answered with a bucket on the other end. BBC continued to hold off the Lady Cats, providing a response to every basket. A Taylor Rush three cut the gap to 39-33 midway through the third period and the tide began to shift. BBC responded with a basket but Benefield, Wersinger, Katie Mayes, Frank, and Moran all scored before the Patriots could answer. The 13-0 run found the Lady Cats taking the lead with 2:08 remaining in the quarter and the momentum was all with the Lady Cats. A BBC layup was answered with a Taylor Rush three, and the Lady Cat lead was 49-43 at the break.
The fourth quarter was all Lady Cats as Moran, Frank, and Wersinger teamed up for a 6-2 run in the opening minutes. BBC struggled to put points on the board and the Lady Cats continued to pull away. Frank, Rush and Wersinger added to the lead and by the 4:54 mark, the advantage had grown to 66-52. The Patriots had no answer for the Lady Cat offensive outburst, and points by Jada Henry, Stevi Jones and Katie Mayes closed out the scoring to secure the 76-58 Lady Cats win.
Taylor Rush led all scorers, pouring in 21 points. Jordan Wersinger added 19, and Kayley Frank and Susanna Moran each contributed 11. Blythe Benefield chipped in six to go with her 11 rebounds, while Katie Mayes tacked on four, Annie Noah two, and Jada Henry and Stevi Jones each added one point.
The win gives the Lady cats an automatic berth to the NCCAA Division I National Championship Tournament. They will now wait for the tournament field and bracket to be announced for the event to be held in Winona Lake, Indiana, March 15-18.