INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – (Box Score) Two spots in the 2015 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Fab Four have been filled, as No. 1 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) eliminated a hard-nosed third-seeded Montana State-Northern squad, 63-50, inside the Independence Events Center in Independence, Mo., on Saturday evening.
Tonight’s win propels the Lady Lions into the national semifinals for the sixth time in program history. It’s Freed-Hardeman’s third-straight year visiting the Fab Four, and the school’s fourth-trip in the last five seasons.
“We really feel like it’s something special for the seniors because they are not going to be doing this anymore; they were the most excited of anybody,” Freed-Hardeman head coach Dale Neal said. “We just want to play well and give God the glory for everything that we do.”
One of those seniors, Grace Alonso de Armino, led the way for the top seed with 26 points and 12 rebounds. She was joined in double-digit scoring by teammates Taleeah Cross with 16, while Hayley Newby also recorded a double-double (14 points and 10 boards).
Defensively, a key coming into the game for the Lady Lions was trying to find a way to stop Skylights’ post player A’Jha Edwards, who has been nothing short of unstoppable in the national championship through the first two games. Edwards – standing at 6-foot-5 – came into the contest averaging 30 points and 22 rebounds.
In Edwards’ last time out against Southern-New Orleans (La.), the senior posted a season-high 35 points and 28 boards. Her 28 boards set a new Division I Women’s Basketball Championship record – breaking Fort Hays State’s (Kan.) Annette Wiles’ record of 24 against Claflin (S.C.) that stood since 1991.
Newby drew the assignment of guarding Edwards, or slowing her down, the best she could. The initial game plan was to push the talented center outside her range – and in the first half it was relatively successful – as Edwards had only four points and nine rebounds.
Trailing 29-24 at the half, the Skylights fed the ball more to their star.
Edwards anchored a Montana State-Northern comeback in the final 20 minutes. The Skylights trailed, 46-36, with 9:38 remaining in their season. A 12-2 run in just over four minutes got the game locked up at 48 apiece. Shortly thereafter, Edwards again tied the game at 50-50 with 4:44 left on the clock.
With the game on the line, Cross delivered with a clutch 3-pointer that would prove to be the game-winning basket. Her long-ball sent the Lady Lions on a 13-0 run to end the game and straight to Monday’s semifinals, where the chance to earn a national title – for the seniors especially – is still alive.
“It is awesome,” Neal said. “You want to see something good happen. We talked about this after the first game; No matter when this ends, they have represented with class and dignity.”
“I am proud of them,” he said.
Freed-Hardeman (35-1) will face the winner of No. 2 Bethel (Tenn.) and top-seeded Campbellsville (Ky.). Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. CDT.
For Edwards – 14 points and 20 rebounds – and company, the Skylights’ run comes to an end at 29-6. Molly Kreycik finished with 12 scored, while Natalee Faupel netted 11 in defeat.