Story by Nikki Sherrill, NAIA Media Coordinator
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) Tomorrow’s national championship game will pit the defending national champion against a program who has never appeared in this setting. No. 1 Saint Xavier (Ill.) knocked off No. 1 Concordia (Neb.) in a hot-shooting night for the Cougars as they excelled themselves in a 91-83 win and gave them a spot in the national title game with their first-ever red banner on the line.
The Cougars are making history this season, with both personal player records being set, and now a program milestone being hit. Tuesday night’s appearance in the title game will be a first for Saint Xavier, who is now 34-2 on the season with one game left. The Cougars will meet up with the 2016 national champion, Marian (Ind.), who defeated No. 1 overall St. Francis (Ill.) 64-56 in the first semifinal. The game will tip at 7:04 p.m. Tuesday and will be broadcasted on ESPN3.
“It’s amazing; just an unbelievable feeling,” said junior Kara Krolicki. “We still have a long way to go but we are looking forward to it.”
At first glance, it looked like Concordia was going to run away into the national championship, as it ended the first quarter up 28-11 over the Cougars. The Bulldogs shut their opponent down in nearly every category in the opening quarter. The second quarter continued to be in Concordia’s favor as they five 3-pointers in the first half. At the break, the Bulldogs owned an eight point lead at 44-36. Saint Xavier used the half to its advantage as they readjusted its game plan after reflecting on what was falling apart.
“We went into halftime with the lead cut down. We knew we could do it. We had another 20 minutes of basketball left. The first half we had to get used to what they were doing and settle down and see what worked for us. We were a little calmer,” said Krolicki.
With halftime behind them, Saint Xavier blitzed the Bulldogs in the third quarter, out-scoring them 25-9 to take an eight point lead. Maddie Welter connected on two 3-pointers in under a minute to give the Cougars the lead for the first time. The end of the third quarter revealed the story of that time period for the Cougars as Mikayla Leyden swished a long-range shot at the buzzer to head into the final quarter ahead 61-53.
The fourth quarter saw 30 points for each team hit the net, but Saint Xavier hit 16 3-pointers in the game with 12 falling for the Bulldogs. Both teams also turned the ball over drastically with 23 for the Bulldogs and 21 for the Cougars. Shooting for Saint Xavier shot 32-of-62 from the field, while Concordia went 30-of-67 for its shooting.
“We are full of scorers on the offensive end,” said Krolicki. “We used the team really well today and showed that everybody can get the job done.”
Saint Xavier was led by junior Kara Krolici, who earlier in the national championship earned her 2,000th career point. Krolicki added 26 more to that count tonight with four steals. Brittany Collins continued to be a force on the glass as she pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds – 10 on the defensive end.
Concordia, who was making its second national semifinal in three years, was led by freshman phenom Philomena Lammers who earned 12 rebounds and 15 points. The scoring leader for the Bulldogs was Dani Andersen who recorded a team-high 21 points.
The Bulldogs, in their 16th appearance, now sits at 25-16 all-time. They have now finished runner-up once and finished as a semifinalist four times.