If there’s one certainty about Friday night’s D2 Women’s Basketball national championship in Sioux Falls, S.D., it’s that the 2015 national champion will hail from California. The only question is whether it will be from the state of California or the rural college town south of Pittsburgh, Pa.
How did they get there? Here’s how…
California (Pa.) 51, Emporia State 46
The Vulcans’ magical ride through the NCAA tournament continued after a hard-fought win over Emporia State. It should come as no shock that this Final Four contest turned into a defensive struggle as neither team reached 35 percent shooting from the field.
It didn’t look that way after the Lady Hornets hit their first four field goal attempts to take an early 8-2 lead two minutes into the game. The Vulcans didn’t let the game get out of hand as Emporia State’s largest lead was just seven points, 19-12, with 10 minutes left in the first half after a Kelly Moten old-school three point play.
Cal took their first lead of the game with four minutes left in the half, 26-25, on a Seairra Barrett layup. Emporia retook the lead on the ensuing possession and went into the locker room ahead 31-30.
The two teams traded the lead four times in the first five minutes of the second half until Kaitlynn Fratz (team-high 14 points) drilled back-to-back threes to give the Vulcans a 40-38 lead with 14:35 left. Cal would not trail again, although the Lady Hornets tied it twice over the next five minutes.
Cal took the lead for good with 9:30 left on Emma Mahady’s layup which sparked a 6-0 Vulcans run. Mahady would score the Vulcans’ final field goal of the game, with 6:43 left, during that decisive run.
While it wasn’t as large a run that Cal fans are used to seeing from this team, it was enough of a spark for the Vulcans to clamp down on one of the premier women’s programs in the country. That defense held Emporia State to 1-for-7 from the field in the final six minutes while forcing four Lady Hornet turnovers.
The Vulcans also converted from the foul line down the stretch, hitting five of their last seven foul shots and 14-for-17 (82.4 percent) for the game. Emporia State went just 2-for-4 from the stripe in the last six minutes and 5-for-10 from the game.
Irina Kukolj added 13 points for the Vulcans.
California Baptist 85, Limestone 67
While the Vulcans of Cal U have a tradition as a regional and national power in D2 women’s basketball, including the 2004 national title, the Lancers are in their first season of NCAA postseason eligibility after their transition from the NAIA.
On the other side of the court, the Limestone Saints, winners of 33 straight games after their 61-58 Elite Eight win over Lewis.
So, naturally, the Lancers opened the game on a 12-5 run and never looked back in the latest in a string of postseason upsets by the Lancers and the Pacific West Conference.
The Saints got to within 28-23 after a Celestra Warren three-pointer with 6:51 left in the first half. That would be as close as the Southeast Region champs would get as the Lancers scored 13 straight points en route to a 42-27 halftime lead.
Cal Baptist maintained their double-digit lead for the entire second half, leading by as many as 25 at one point, as Cinderella’s journey to Sioux Falls is extended by two more days.
Courtney Nelson led the Lancers with 20 points, while Darsha Burnside added 17 points and 18 rebounds. Ayshia McNeil scored 17 points to lead Limestone.