Morningside will play for a national championship after a victory over GPAC rival Hastings in Monday’s NAIA Division II semifinals. Photo / Gene Knudsen
No. 1-ranked Morningside will play for a national championship after the Mustangs defeated No. 12 Hastings 66-63 in Monday’s semifinals of the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Tournament in Sioux City’s Tyson Events Center/ Gateway Arena.
The Mustangs will take a 36-1 record into Tuesday’s title game against third-ranked Concordia in an All-GPAC final, slated for a 7:05 start. Morningside defeated Concordia twice during the regular season by margins of 78-70 and 77-76 before the Bulldogs handed the Mustangs their only defeat of the season with an 80-72 triumph in the GPAC Post-Season Tournament Championship Game.
Hastings bowed out with a record of 25-9.
The Mustangs prevailed in a marquee semifinal featuring two teams that had combined to win six of the last 13 NAIA Division II National Championships, including a run of five in a row from 2002-06. Morningside won NAIA II titles in 2004, 2005, and 2009.
Morningside thumped Hastings by margins of 73-47 and 60-46 during the regular season GPAC slate. The third meeting was close almost all the way.
Hastings, which had won 12 of its last 13 games, took a 29-28 lead into the intermission. The Broncos held their largest lead of the game, 35-30, with 18:16 left to play before the Mustangs went on a furious 25-4 scoring run to take the lead for good. Lexi Ackerman capped the run when she made a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Mustangs their largest lead of the night at 16 points, 55-39, with 6:01 left to play. That gave Morningside enough of a cushion to survive a 24-11 Bronco scoring run the rest of the way.
Jessica Tietz led the Mustangs with 16 points and nine rebounds. She received double figure scoring support from Taylor Bahensky with 14 points and Ackerman with 11, while the Mustang bench contributed mightily with eight points from Allison Bachman and six points and nine rebounds from Mandy Osborne.
Jamie Van Kirk, largely ineffective in the teams’ two regular season meetings, carried the Hastings offense with 27 points behind an 11-for-21 shooting performance. Halley Samuelson joined her in double figures with 10 points, while Michaela Barry contributed eight points off the bench.
Van Kirk, the Broncos’ leading scorer with a 19.2-point average, had scored a combined 18 points and made only seven of 24 field goal attempts in the two regular season meetings.
Hastings took a 29-28 lead into the intermission following an opening 20 minutes where no more than five points ever separated the two teams, and that came in the first two minutes after Morningside scored the first five points of the game on a basket by Tietz and a 3-pointer by Madison Braun to take a 5-0 lead at the 18:39 mark.
Hastings answered with baskets from Halley Samuelson, Van Kirk, and Sierra Williamson to take a 6-5 lead with 15:56 left in the half.
Morningside regained the lead on a 3-pointer by Osborne to go up 8-6 with 15:28 left and never trailed again until Van Kirk struck from 3-point range to put the Broncos up 27-26 with 2:19 left in the half.
Hastings, which shot only 29.3 and 25.0 percent in its two regular season games against Morningside, shot 41.4 percent in the first half compared to chilly 32.3 percent shooting performance by the Mustangs. Van Kirk made seven of 12 field goal attempts to match her combined field goal total from the teams’ two regular season meetings and led all scorers with 16 points at the break.
Tietz made four of six floor shots and led the Mustangs with eight points in the first half, but the rest of the team was just six-for-25 for 24.0 percent.
Hastings scored on three of its first four possessions of the second half and held its largest lead of the night at five points, 35-30, with 18:16 left to play. Tietz scored off an offensive rebound to close the gap to 35-32 with 17:06 left and ignite a 25-4 Morningside scoring run that proved to make the difference. The Mustangs took the lead for good when Osborne rained home a 3-point jumper from the top of the key to make it 37-35 with 14:47 left.
Morningside pushed its lead into double figures when a Bahensky 3-pointer put the Mustangs up 50-39 at the nine-minute mark. The Mustangs then opened their biggest lead of the game when an Ackerman 3-pointer put them up by 16 points, 55-39, with 6:01 left.
Hastings rallied all the way back to within one point, 64-63, on a 3-pointer by Barry with 3.8 seconds left.
Two free throws by Bahensky and a pair of Hastings turnovers on errant long inbound passes sealed the win for the Mustangs.