By Scott Barker, Communications and Sports Information Intern
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – (Box Score | Bracket) No. 2-seed MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) capped off its season with a championship title, as the Pioneers knocked off No. 6-seed Baker (Kan.) Tuesday night, 49-35. The 2016 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship was held at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena for the second-straight year.
“I knew our team was going take care of business, they know what to do in winning time,” said MidAmerica Nazarene head coach Jon Lewis. “We were in winning time that entire quarter, so I knew that we were going to control the game and just let it ride with them. We knew that they were going to come out hot and heavy in the first half. We got back to our defensive principles and I knew that if we did that we could win this game.”
The first quarter was back-and-forth, as both teams struggled from the field. Baker shot 31.3 percent on 5-of-16 shooting. The Pioneers went 3-of-19 (15.8 percent) from the field in the first 10 minutes. The Wildcats, down two with 2:18 remaining in the period, ended the quarter on a 7-0 run, capped by a Taylor Chase bucket with 16 seconds left to take the 12-7 advantage into the first break.
The Wildcats extended that run to 12-0 with the first two baskets in the second stanza, highlighted by a Taylor 3-point field goal to lead 17-7. Kelsey Larson drained another 3-point field goal for Baker to push its lead out to a team-high 11 points (25-14) with 2:43 remaining in the first half.
That lead was quickly diminished, as MidAmerica Nazarene ended the half on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit 25-21 at the intermission.
The Pioneers defense dominated the third quarter, as they held Baker to 1-of-17 shooting from the field. The Wildcats scored their first basket of the half with just 30 seconds remaining in the period.
MidAmerica Nazarene went on a 19-0 run – last 2:43 of the second quarter till 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter – to take the lead. MidAmerica Nazarene outscored Baker 14-2 in the third period.
The Pioneers extended its lead to a game-high 15 points after a pair of free throws from Kyleesha Weston with 54 seconds left in the game. MidAmerica Nazarene outscored Baker 28-10 in the second half. The 10 points scored in a half by Baker, ties the championship record for fewest points in a half with former-member Nazareth (N.Y.) and Southwestern Oklahoma in 1983.
Baker was led in scoring by Kelsey Larson and Macy Wallisch, who tallied eight points each. Jami Hodge added seven points and Ericka Simpson tallied five points. Wallisch brought down nine boards and finishes her Baker career with 924 points, 902 rebounds and 326 blocked shots.
Baker ended the game shooting 24.6 percent (15-of-61) from the field, 25.0 percent (5-of-20) from beyond the arc and was 0-of-7 at the charity stripe.
Kyleesha Weston led the Pioneers with a career-high 21 points. Jasmine Webb added 11 points, including her first-career 3-point field goal.
As a team, the Pioneers shot 34.0 percent (18-of-53) from the field, including a 4-of-13 (30.8 percent) performance from beyond the arc.
The 49 points scored by MidAmerica Nazarene is the fewest points scored by a winning team in the championship game (Southwestern Oklahoma, 55) and Baker’s point total of 35 were the lowest scoring output of any losing team in the title game (Missouri Southern, 45). The two teams combined for the lowest scoring championship game in its 36 year event (previous low was 109 points, Southwestern Oklahoma and Saginaw Valley (Mich.), 1985).
The Pioneers are the first team from the state of Kansas to win the NAIA Division I Women’s National Championship since former-member Fort Hays State (Kan.) defeated Southeastern Oklahoma in the 1991 title game. The 2016 event was the first time since 2009 that teams from the same conference squared off in the title game – Union (Tenn.) def. Lambuth (Tenn.), 73-63, as part of the TranSouth Conference. This also marks the only second championship game since 2004 that a team from Tennessee did not participate in the championship game.
Baker finishes its season with a 28-9 overall record and 5-3 in the national championship. Baker, 0-4 against MidAmerica Nazarene this season, led at the half in all four games. The 35 points scored were a season low for the Wildcats.
MidAmerica Nazarene, now 32-5, runs its championship record to 7-4 overall.
This is the first team national championship for the Pioneers, since men’s basketball won the NAIA Division II title in 2007.
2016 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Most Outstanding Player – Kyleesha Weston, MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.)
2016 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Hustle Award – Jasmine Webb, MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.)
2016 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year – Jon Lewis, MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.)
2016 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball All-Championship Team:
Erin Legel, Great Falls (Mont.)
Kelah Eldridge, Pikeville (Ky.)
Ericka Simpson, Baker (Kan.)
Jami Hodge, Baker (Kan.)
Megan Balcom, MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.)
Kristen Murphy, Benedictine (Kan.)
Lindsey Burd, Campbellsville (Ky.)
Caelyn Orlandi, Lewis-Clark State (Idaho)
Kayla Styles, Lindsey Wilson (Ky.)
Kandice Porter, Pikeville (Ky.)