JACKSON — In a contest that could be used for a movie script, a pair of women’s college basketball powerhouses squared off for the third time on Saturday night in the championship game of the NCCAA Mid-East Region.
Lee’s Lady Flames had won the first two meetings by a total of five points to set the stage for the third collision before a pro-Union crowd in the Fred DeLay Gymnasium, and every single paying customer got their money’s worth.
The Lady Bulldogs rode the 3-point shooting of Amy Philamlee and Kelsey Risner to a 68-65 victory. Don’t be surprised to see the Lady Flames and Union battle for a fourth time before the NCCAA National Championship is declared in Winona Lake, Ind., beginning next Wednesday.
Philamlee made 4-of-6 shots from behind the arc and Risner converted 5-of-8. Philamlee was also 4-of-4 from the charity stripe and finished with a game-leading 22 points. Risner tallied 15. For the game, the Lady Bulldogs shot a blistering 52 percent from 3-point range (13-of-25).
With Philamlee nailing a 3-point shot just before the halftime buzzer sounded, Union enjoyed its biggest lead of the game, 39-30 at the break. The Lady Flames battled back and actually took a 61-60 lead on a basket by Myriah Iles with 4:05 remaining.
With neither team willing to accept defeat, they battled back and forth over the next 2 1/2 minutes before Philamlee canned a 3-pointer to put her club back up 66-65. Hollie German made it a one-point game with a score at the 1:26 mark but Philamlee was fouled with 1:12 left and made both free tosses to help give her club the win.
“We didn’t play our best basketball in the first half and that’s what I told our girls at the break,” said coach Marty Rowe after his team’s 16-game winning streak ended and the Lady Flames dropped to 23-4 on the year. Union improved to 21-6. “We played the girls in the second half that I thought wanted to follow the game plan and we did a much better job,” added Rowe.
Rowe praised the effort of sophomore Melanie Barker who played 23 minutes and contributed four points and five rebounds, plus planning solid defense. He also singled out a big 3-pointer by sophomore Kayla Beavers who teamed with German to sink back-to-back 3-pointers and cut Union’s lead to 59-58 with 4:55 remaining.
Lee got a supreme effort from senior Rachel Lockhart, who converted 4-of-6 3-pointers and grabbed a team-leading seven rebounds. She finished with 13 points and five assists. German, dogged all evening by the Lady Bulldog defense, found a way to score 16 points, while senior Karley Miller also stepped up her game with 13 points and four rebounds. Madison Lee joined in with nine points and six rebounds.
The Lady Flames shot 41 percent from the field (24-of-58) but their 34 percent 3-point shooting could not match the red-hot production of the Lady Bulldogs. “Union is an outstanding basketball team and coach Mark Campbell does a great job. I would like to see us meet for fourth time,” said Rowe as he flashed a smile. “I know the fans would love it.”
Both teams played almost error-free basketball. Lee was guilty of only nine turnovers compared to 19 assists, while Union had 10 floor mistakes and 14 assists. The Lady Flames enjoyed a slight 31-28 advantage in the rebounding department. Foul shots were few and far between. Lee went to the line seven times and made six. The Lady Bulldogs were awarded seven and canned five.