By Jake Knabel, assistant to the media coordinator
SIOUX CITY, Iowa - (Box Score) No. 1 Morningside (Iowa) delighted its hometown fans with a brilliant start that saw it race out to a 26-9 lead en route to a 71-60 victory over No. 11 Bethel (Ind.) on Saturday night. With the victory, the Mustangs complete the semifinal field at the 2013 State Farm-NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championships. Morningside is back in the Fab Four for the second time in the past three seasons.
"We're excited to be there," Mustang head coach Jamie Sale said. "We know Indiana Wesleyan (Monday's opponent) is going to be a great game. They're so well-coached. They're probably the best defensive team in this tournament and we know we're going to have to play great to beat them."
The Mustangs spread the attack around in building the advantage right out of the gate. Six different players scored as part of the 26-9 burst, with eight of the first 12 points coming from the fabulous backcourt duo of All-American Chelsie Trask and Shelby Beaudette to get the Tyson Events Center crowd rocking.
Bethel fought back admirably after the slow start. A 7-0 run cut the deficit to just two (40-38) at the 11:57 mark of the second half after Alyshia Harvey's fast-break layup. Harvey's bucket came on the heels of a Laura Johnson steal and lay in that suddenly gave the Lady Pilots a serious chance of pulling the upset.
"When you play really good teams there's going to be runs," Sale said. "There's no way we were just going to keep them down the whole game. They moved the ball a little bit better and we lost them. When we lost them, they made shots. We just had to make sure we didn't panic when they made their run."
Morningside responded with another spurt of its own that quickly pushed the lead back to nine (50-41) as the teams traded blows. A resilient Bethel squad kept coming and closed the gap again, getting within 54-50 with just under five minutes to play. But the Mustangs ultimately took control, a Trask ball-fake, step-back trey highlighting another scoring spike. Morningside then extended the lead back to double-digits in the final minutes.
"Once we get our defense going it calms us down a little," Trask said. "It's so consistent with us lately. It's nice to know. It's nice to be able to rely on."
Bethel's Erin Hunt knocked home a triple from the left wing to give the Pilots a last breath of life with 1:33 remaining on the clock. However, they had little margin for error the rest of the way and Morningside effectively put the game away at the free throw line.
The Mustangs won despite a bit of sloppiness offensively with the 26 turnovers helping Bethel get back into the game as the Lady Pilots held a 17-8 advantage in points off turnovers. However, Bethel shot just 32.3 percent for the game compared to 40 percent for Morningside.
Trask finished with 15 points to lead all scorers. She also added three steals and three assists. Star post Ashlynn Muhl notched 11 points and eight rebounds in helping Morningside to a 52-29 rebound advantage.
Georgia Boisse posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Bethel. Hicks also chipped in 13 points.
Sale picked up his 400th career victory on Saturday night. He is in his 15th season, 12th with Morningside, as a collegiate head coach.
The semifinals will include Morningside, No. 4 Indiana Wesleyan, No. 6 Davenport (Mich.) and No. 7 Northwestern (Iowa). This marks the sixth-consecutive year, and the 12th time in the past 13 years, that the Great Plains Athletic Conference has advanced at least two teams to the Fab Four. The Crossroads League and the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference will also be represented.
In the first semifinal at 6 p.m. on Monday, Davenport will try to end three-time defending champion Northwestern's 18-game tournament win streak. In the night cap, Morningside takes on defensive stalwart Indiana Wesleyan in what figures to be an entertaining game of contrasting styles.