Lady Tigers Fall Short of First Regional Championship in Heartbreaking Loss
What seemed like the prime opportunity to win the first ever NCCAA Midwest Regional Championship for women's basketball seemed to be right at the fingertips of the Lady Tigers on Saturday as they took on the perennial regional winners and defending National Champions, the Crusaders of Maranatha Baptist University. The Lady Tigers came into the tournament as the #1 seed for the first time in program history and after playing their best game of the year on the previous night, it seemed to be the Tigers' game to lose. Unfortunately, that is how it ended up as the more experienced Crusaders kept their composure and made several key plays down the stretch to pull off the 72-68 win.
The Lady Tigers started out like they left off Friday night and raced out to a quick 8-0 lead and it looked like the Tigers would be on their way. The Tiger defense only allowed four field goals through the first fifteen minutes of the game, however the Crusaders were able to stay close at the foul line going 15-19 in the opening half. The Tigers made a run late in the first half and opened up a 13 point lead at the three minute mark. Maranatha scored a basket at the buzzer to make the halftime score 38-29 in favor of the Tigers.
The Lady Tigers opened the second half with a steal and a three point attempt that hit every part of the rim and bounced out, which would have given their double digit lead back. Maranatha quickly gained momentum as the Tigers began to get into foul trouble and commit untimely turnovers. Laci Peterson, Maranatha's 6-1 senior center, took the game over in the second half, including hitting back to back three pointers to cut the lead to 5 at around the 11 minute mark. Grace's Marisa Pelletier (Calvin Christian H.S.) fouled out with 8 minutes left in the game and the Tigers' best answer to guard Peterson was on the bench for good. Shortly after that, Tigers sharpshooter Megan Scholtens (Quad City H.S.) jointed Pelletier on the bench with five fouls while two other Tigers continued to play with four. The Crusaders opened up a 66-62 lead, but the Tigers quickly tied the score at 66 on baskets from Anna Iwaniw (Kent City H.S.) and Abby Schultz (Holland Calvary H.S.) Peterson kept making key plays down the stretch, including go ahead buckets at the 50 second and the final blow with 8 seconds left in the game. The Tigers made one last run at a quick basket to win or send to OT, but a pass was caught out of bounds with 2 seconds left. Two late free throws sealed the four point victory for the #3 seed Crusaders.
Molly Holtrop (Cedar Springs H.S.) led the Tigers with 20 points, including 4 of 5 from the three point line. Amy Leszinske (Ravenna H.S.) played another solid game with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Anna Iwaniw (Kent City H.S.) had 10 points, Abby Schultz (Holland Calvary H.S.) added 9 and Megan Scholtens (Quad City H.S) chipped in with 8. Laci Peterson led all scorers with 27. Most of the game statistics were very close as the Tigers outshot the Crusaders from the field 41.9% to 40.4%. Turnovers were in the favor of the Tigers by a 16-12 count. The Crusaders won the rebounding battle by a 40-29 count and they shot 23-30 from the free throw line while the Tigers were only 10-19.
"This loss is going to sting for a while", Coach Renzema said about the loss. "You only get so many opportunities to win the regional and it was right there for us. We had our chances to win, but I have to give Maranatha credit for making plays down the stretch. Peterson is a very good player and she made key plays every time they needed one."
"I am very proud of the progress our team has made this year and we are on solid footing for next year. We have some areas we need to improve as a team and as individuals and hopefully we will be motivated to do that during the off season."
The Lady Tigers finished the season with a solid 20-11 record.