March 10, 2012
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) The frenetic faced-paced style of Briar Cliff (Iowa) electrified a large hometown crowd as the Chargers outlasted Mount Mercy (Iowa), 81-76, in the quarterfinals of the State Farm-NAIA Division II National Championship in Sioux City, Iowa. Guard Mattie Murren came off the bench to spark Briar Cliff to its fourth Fab Four appearance in school history.
“I really thought the key was Mattie coming out and hitting a couple big bombs,” Briar Cliff head coach Mike Power said. “When she does that it gets our bench a little fired up and we get going, kind of get a little bit of that adrenaline rush, which kind of woke us up and got us going.
“Mount Mercy played a great game. They did kind of did what they did against Morningside (Iowa) last night. They were methodical with how they broke the press and didn’t get overexcited.”
That approach allowed the Mustangs did build an 11-point lead late in the first half when they went on a 10-2 run capped by a 3-pointer by Danielle Herdliska. Mount Mercy held the lead for the next nine minutes and 56 seconds when Murren (15 points) stepped up and drilled one of her four 3s.
The Mustangs began to turn the tide back in their favor by responding with an 8-0 run to go in front 57-49 with 9:38 remaining. The rest of the game, however, belonged to the Chargers. Murren continued to be a thorn in Mount Mercy’s side as she stepped up and nailed another 3-pointer from well beyond the arc to bring Briar Cliff within two points with 8:26 left.
The Mustangs would not die easily as Micha Mims poured in a 3-pointer to tie the score at 70 with 3:09 left. That would prove to be their last field goal of the game. The Chargers’ Kylie Dilla responded with a trey on the next possession to ignite a 7-0 run that all but decided the game.
A different Charger team emerged from the halftime locker room. After shooting 29.4 percent from the field in the first half, Briar Cliff ramped up its shooting to an incredible 63.2 percent, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Junior guard Kela Cihak stepped up with her biggest game of the tournament, notching 22 points backed by 10-for-14 shooting from the free throw line.
“I was struggling the first two games so I was definitely due for a good night on offense,” Cihak said. “That’s the unique thing about our team is every night we have someone new step up, and that’s the great team effort and unity we have on our team.”
Mount Mercy head coach Aaron Jennings, who took his team up against both Sioux City teams in the tournament, was proud of his team. The Mustangs made their first appearances in the tournament altogether and in the quarterfinals since 1995. His team simply made a few too many mistakes.
“The pressure that they put on you in the fullcourt and halfcourt with all their different movements and their hands flying high – I thought we got a little tight,” Mount Mercy head coach Aaron Jennings said. “Everything we did right in the first half in terms of slowing it down and handling it, in the second half we didn’t.”
Bria Fields led Mount Mercy with 19 points and eight rebounds. Mims added 17 points.
Cihak and the Chargers (25-9) now look forward to a date with familiar foe Northwestern (Iowa) on Monday at 6 p.m. CST in a Fab Four matchup. The two squads split a pair of regular-season meetings.