BILLINGS, Mont. – [BOX SCORE] Before today, one-seed Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) had been to the NAIA Division I National Tournament 21 times without winning an NAIA National Championship. That streak came to an end, with the Lady Lions defeating one-seed Westmont (Calif.) 76-64 in the 2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship Finals.
“It feels great, for me personally it feels great, but most importantly for the girls and our four seniors to send them out like that it’s just awesome,” said FHU Head Coach Dale Neal who has been a part of all 22 total appearances. “I told the girls I think I might cry, it’s just awesome. It’s a surreal awesome feeling. It’s going take a while for it to all soak in.”
There was no significant run one way or the other in the game, but just a slow and steady extending of the lead from Freed-Hardeman. The Lady Lions never trailed in the game and were never even tied after the 0-0 opening score.
Senior forward Kim Mallory, and junior guards Sandrea Sylman and Carrie Hatchel carried the Lady Lions throughout the game, combining to score all but seven of the team’s 76 points.
The first half was a combination Mallory on the inside and midrange and Hatchel from three, that gave FHU a quick lead that stood the rest of the game. Mallory had 11 points in the first quarter alone, while Hatchel went a perfect three-for-three from three in the first half as the two combined for 30 of the team’s 39 first-half points.
“Carrie came off the bench like she did, she’s has done it before for us. We needed another shooter,” Neal said. “They switched up defenses a lot on us and kept us off balance a little bit, Carrie stepped up big time and we needed it.”
As Westmont tried to slow down those two top scorers from the first half, FHU’s Sylman stepped in to score 17 of her 24 points in the second half.
In the final minute, the Warriors gave one last effort run at the lead and two consecutive threes from Maud Ranger brought the margin down to five points with 49 seconds to go. Westmont wouldn’t score again, and FHU built the lead back to 12 before the final buzzer.
As has been the case most of the year, Westmont was a balanced team in the championship game. All five of the team’s starters scored 10 points or more. Joy Krupa led the team in scoring with 15 points and almost had a double-double with 8 rebounds along with four assists and two steals.
Freed-Hardeman was appearing in its second championship game in program history. The last time was in 2014 when they lost to Oklahoma City 80-76. The Lady Lions are now 39-21 all-time in the NAIA tournament.
Westmont was also appearing in its second championship game. They made it in 2013 and won against former NAIA-member Lee (Tenn.) 71-65. Their all-time record in the tournament goes to 18-12.
2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Most Outstanding Player – Kim Mallory, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.)
2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Hustle Award – Joy Krupa, Westmont (Calif.)
2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Coach of Year – Dale Neal, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.)
2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball All-Championship Team First Team Brianna King, Montana Western Maci
Second Team Lauren Tsuneishi, Westmont (Calif.) Hannah Borges, Central Methodist (Mo.) Celina Pagan, Menlo College (Calif.)