With 1:36 left, German had tied the game at 41 by making the second of two free throws. After a miss by Cumberland University, the Lady Flames grabbed the rebound and coach Marty Rowe ordered a timeout with the clock ticking down.
“I told the girls to put the ball in Hollie’s hands and run the blur play (no screens) and let her take the ball to the basket,” said Rowe. The plan worked to perfection. German drove for the hoop and was fouled. The rest was history as she drilled the freebies and gave the Lady Flames a bruising 43-41 victory.
In the other semifinal game, Westmont College (Calif.) upset No. 1 ranked Freed-Hardeman University 59-49 and will face the Lady Flames in the championship contest. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports network beginning at 6:35 p.m.
The win did not come without a last-second scare. Following a timeout, Cumberland guard Briannica Tye took the inbounds pass and drove to near the top of the 3-point arc. Her shot barely missed the mark, bouncing off the back of the rim and into the hands of a Lee defender as the final buzzer sounded.
“That was a war. We missed so many layups but we found a way to win the game and really showed our toughness down the stretch,” commented Rowe.
Both teams struggled offensively in the second period, scoring a combined 38 points, including 17 points by the Lady Flames on only three field goals. Lee made up for its shooting woes by converting 11-of-14 free throws, including 5-of-6 during the hectic final three minutes.
“We didn’t shoot it well again, but we played solid defense and got some key stops. We made big free throws down the stretch once again,” Rowe added. “They were very physical on our screens. This was the best team we played all year. They are also the best half-court defensive team we played.”
The second 20 minutes saw seven ties, including four in the final seven minutes but there was only one lead change and no more than two points separated the two sides, except when Jenna Adams converted a pair of free throws to make it 40-37 with 3:30 left in the period.
The Bulldogs fought back and claimed their lone lead of the second half and first since seven minutes remained in the first half, at the 1:57 mark (41-40) when Simone Ryan converted a field goal and a free throw. However, the lead was short-lived as German stepped to the charity stripe and converted what turned out to be the tying and winning free throws.
The Lady Flames got off to a slow start and trailed 9-2 early. Lee chipped away at the deficit and went on a 10-0 run, sparked by an Adams 3-pointer that actually banked off the backboard and into the basket. Adams scored eight of Lee’s 10 points during the stretch and German had the other two.
The Lady Flames held the Bulldogs without a field goal over the final two minutes of the first half and owned a 26-20 lead at the break.
“It was great team effort again tonight,” explained Rowe. “I thought Mary (Jackson) was great; Bambi (Brooke Hamby) was great, and we got good minutes from anyone we sent out there.” Lee’s defense held Cumberland’s leading scorer Jessica Pace to only six points.
Adams finished the night leading all scorers with 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. She also grabbed 12 rebounds for her 16th double-double of the season.
German, who was dogged by Cumberland’s Josette Campbell the entire evening, totaled 13 points. Hamby added six markers, while Jackson grabbed six boards and Karley Miller collected four rebounds as the Lady Flames outrebounded the taller club, 42-35.
Two of the NAIA’s top defenses held true to form as the Bulldogs held Lee to only 26.5 shooting. The Lady Flames returned the favor, holding Cumberland to just 29 percent from the field. Lee’s defense also did not allow a Cumberland player to score in double figures. London Elie and Tye tallied nine points apiece.
“I’m happy for our school and that we get a chance to represent our university in the national championship game for the first time,” said the pleased Lee coach.
“I’m so excited I can’t wait till tomorrow [Tuesday] gets here. This was a great opportunity for us to have to tough a game and take that next step. We still have one more step to take. No matter what happens tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy it. I can’t wait to watch our team play. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”