SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) A nail-biting finish sent the Hastings (Neb.) Broncos to their seventh Fab Four in school history in 15 National Championship appearances after an exciting 68-67 victory over No. 1-seeded Saint Xavier (Ill.) out of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
With Saturday’s win in the quarterfinal finale, four representatives from the Great Plains Athletic Conference will compete for a spot in the national championship final on March 17. The last time that happened was 2003 – when Hastings, Concordia (Neb.), Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) and Sioux Falls (S.D.) all qualified.
The Broncos overcame a first half deficit of 31-26 by outscoring the Cougars 42-36 in the final 20 minutes thanks to a balanced and much-needed contributions from the bench. What could have been the most-surprising, but most-welcomed sight in the contest was the efforts from freshman Abigail Niebrugge.
The guard scored a career-high 11 points in just over 12 minutes of action – her first floor time in the entire national championship. Jamie Van Kirk, who had a game high 21, praised her teammate’s play by saying how all year the team has used the next-man up mentality.
“Tonight is was just someone else, Niebrugge. Something special about her is she has played spot minutes all year.” Van Kirk said. “For her to stay focused over there all the time and to be ready to come in and hit shots like she did tonight, that’s just a tremendous tribute to her.”
On the defensive end, the Broncos were able to cause problems for a Saint Xavier offense that was balanced and effective from almost top to bottom in the previous two contest. Head coach Carrie Hofstetter – who was a guard for the Broncos' national championship team the last time the GPAC held all four semifinal spots – praised her squad’s mentality during the last 11 minutes of the game to not take no for an answer.
Toughness and grit by Hastings held the Cougars to only two players in double-figures (Kara Krolicki, 19; Mikayla Leyden, 12).
Krolicki was able to make a contested 3-pointer as time expired to narrow the defeat. Senior Morgan Stuut was bottled up and held to only eight points on 4-of-11 shooting. Stuut and company end the season at 31-4.
No. 3 Hastings (25-8) looks ahead to a third matchup with Morningside (Iowa) on Monday at 6 p.m. CDT, live on ESPN3.com. The Broncos hope to rebound from the two previous losses to the Mustangs this season – by an average of 20 points per contest.