The third time was the charm for the Mount Vernon Nazarene College women's basketball team as the Lady Cougars upset top-seeded Malone College 64-62 in overtime in the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region Tournament championship game on the Lady Pioneers' home court on Saturday night.
MVNC (19-14), the second seed in the tournament, lost to Malone (21-8) twice during the regular season. However, with their season on the line, the Lady Cougars won the game that mattered most.
"We got a tremendous effort tonight," said MVNC head coach Steve Gregory. "Everybody stepped up their game and played with a lot of emotion and enthusiasm. I give credit to my four seniors (Anne Nussbaum, Shelly Aldrich, Amie Bibby, and Holly Riggle) who have been here before and found a way to win on the road against the top seed. They played most of the minutes and they wanted the bulk of the responsibility - win or lose. All four stepped up and played great."
"Malone is a great team," Gregory added. "This game was a tremendous war tonight. This was a great win for our program."
The two teams traded baskets to start the game with the Lady Pioneers holding a slim 8-7 lead after the first four and a half minutes of action. Then, the Lady Cougars went on a 17-2 run over the next 10 minutes to build a 24-10 lead with 5:11 remaining before halftime. Anne Nussbaum fueled the scoring spurt with nine points.
Malone closed the half by scoring five of the final seven points to pull within 26-15 at the break. MVNC managed to make just two free throws in the final five minutes, and the Lady Cougars missed all four of their shots from the field as the Lady Pioneers closed the gap.
Nussbaum led all scorers with 14 first-half points, while Shelly Aldrich also had six points for MVNC. Kristen Beach led the Lady Pioneers with five first-half points as Malone shot just 22.2 percent from the field (6-of-27) in the first 20 minutes of action.
After Beach opened the second half with a layup, Nussbaum drained a three-pointer to extend the Lady Cougars' lead to 29-17 with just over 19 minutes left in regulation.
However, the Lady Pioneers showed why they were the top seed in the tournament by using a 24-11 run over the next ten minutes to take a 41-40 lead at the 9:01 mark. Amy Stefansic tossed in 16 points to lead the comeback, while Beach added six points.
The teams traded baskets over the next five minutes as the score was knotted at 47-47 with 4:17 left on the clock. After Beach put Malone on top 50-47 with a three-pointer at the 3:22 mark, Angie Trainer answered with a trey of her own to tie the score back up at 50-50 with 3:02 to play.
Stefansic gave the Lady Pioneers a 52-50 lead with a pair of free throws at the 1:39 mark, but Deanna Kilpatrick's layup with 1:17 to play tied the score at 52-52. Neither team was able to score again and the game went to a five-minute overtime period.
MVNC scored first in the extra session on a layup by Bibby to give the Lady Cougars a 54-52 lead. Malone answered with a basket by Beach to knot the score at 54-54 with 3:40 to play.
Two baskets by Trainer and a layup by Aldrich were off-set by four points by Stefansic and a pair of free throws by Bond as the score remained tied at 60-60 with 1:46 remaining.
Bibby and Aldrich each scored a basket to give MVNC a 64-60 lead with just 49 seconds left to play, but Beach pulled the Lady Pioneers within 64-62 with 35 seconds still on the clock.
Aldrich missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity with 29 seconds left to give Malone one more chance, but Beach failed to make either of her two free throw attempts with seven seconds to go as the Lady Cougars earned their third straight berth in the NCCAA National Tournament.
Nussbaum led MVNC with 17 points, four assists, and five rebounds. Aldrich added 12 points, while Trainer finished with 11 points and six rebounds. Bibby, Kilpatrick, Riggle, and Kelly Walters also contributed six points apiece with Kilpatrick grabbing six rebounds.
The Lady Pioneers were led by Beach, the NCCAA East Region Player of the Year, with 22 points and eight rebounds. Stefansic finished with 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 shooting from the free throw line. Stacy Ridenbaugh also added 10 points.
The Lady Cougars will now wait to see who they will play in the eight-team national tournament that will take place at Oakland City University in Oakland City, Indiana. The first round will be played on Thursday, March 9, with games continuing on Friday, March 10, and Saturday, March 11.