After a long bus ride and a couple of busy days at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Championship Tournament, the College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats stepped on the court to begin their pursuit of a national title. The tournament is being played at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, and the Lady Cats were set to face Asbury University in their opening round contest.
A rough start in the opening frame had Lady Cat fans on the edge of their seats and hoping for a quick turnaround. It was not to be, and things continued to slide as the quarter progressed. The Eagles put seven quick points on the board before the Lady Cats were able to break through. A Blythe Benefield layup put the Lady Cats on the board, but Asbury continued to apply pressure. Another 7-2 run had the Eagles in control, 14-4, with 6:16 left in the quarter. Kayley Frank and Jordan Wersinger jumped in the scoring column and cut into the lead, but Asbury was not slowing down. The Lady Cat defense stepped up as the clock was winding down, and baskets by Wersinger and Noah cut the gap to 21-14 with :58 remaining. An Eagle basket was answered by a Katie Mayes jumper and the Lady Cats trailed 23-16 at the quarter break.
With first game Jitters and a host of turnovers hopefully out of the way, the Lady Cats had clawed their way back into contention. Layups by Katie Mayes and Kayley Frank cut the lead to 23-20, and an Avery Arnold three gave the Lady Cats their first tie since the opening tip. Asbury responded to the Lady Cat run and scored six unanswered points of their own. A pair of Frank baskets would keep the Lady Cats close, but Asbury stretched their lead to 36-27. A Benefield layup and four unanswered points by Kayley Frank pulled the Lady Cats to within three, 36-33. An Asbury free throw rounded out the first half scoring and the Lady Cats trailed 37-33 at the intermission.
With an inconsistent first half behind them, Lady Cat fans were expecting their team to do as they had many times during the season and come out with a solid 20 minutes in the second half. Annie Noah started the scoring in the third quarter, but the Eagles answered with a quick three. Baskets by Blythe Benefield and Jordan Wersinger pulled the Lady Cats to within one, before a Wersinger three on the next possession gave them their first lead of the contest. Points by Frank, Benefield, and Noah capped a 12-0 Lady Cat run and the Eagles were spiraling. An Eagle free throw and a three broke the silence but the Lady Cats continued their attack. Susanna Moran sank a jumper and Taylor Rush followed with a three to force an Asbury timeout. Benefield and Frank greeted the eagles with points out of the huddle and the Lady Cats were pulling away. Avery Arnold drained a pair of free throws to end the third stanza and the Lady Cats were in control, 62-47.
With 10 minutes left to play, the Lady Cats had outscored the Eagles 29-10 in the previous quarter and just needed to maintain to finish the game. A quick Asbury three and a pair of free throws made things interesting to open the fourth quarter, but Taylor Rush responded with a pair of threes to get the Lady cats going again. The Eagles continued to challenge, but the Lady Cats always had an answer. Rush added another basket to compliment one from Frank, and the Lady Cat lead grew to 72-58 with 5:00 left to play. Asbury took another timeout to prepare for a final push, but the Lady Cats refused to let it happen. Noah, Wersinger, and Frank wrapped up the scoring, and the Lady Cats took the opening round win, 81-67.
After trailing the entire first half, the Lady Cats dominated the final two periods and outscored the Eagles, 48-30 to secure the win.
The Lady Cats had four double figure scorers, with Kayley Frank pouring in 23 points and pulling down nine rebounds. Jordan Wersinger, Blythe Benefield, and Taylor Rush added 15, 12, and 11 points respectively, and Anny Noah narrowly missed a double-double logging nine points and 12 rebounds to go with seven assists. Avery Arnold added five points, Katie Mayes chipped in four, and Susanna Moran tacked on two points in the win.
The Lady Cats will play Thursday afternoon at 4:15 PM (CT) in the semifinal round against the host, Grace College.