SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) In front of a large crowd that made for an electric atmosphere, the Mustangs of Morningside (Iowa) are moving on to their fourth national championship final game in school history after a 66-63 win over Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) foe Hastings (Neb.).
“Beating a team three times, especially a team as good as Hastings is – Hastings played a great game,” said Morningside head coach Jamie Sale. “We tried to game plan to take [Jamie] Van Kirk away, but we did not do a good job; she lit us up.”
“Give them a lot of credit. They had a lot of things against them with being in our hometown, we beat them twice and they really played a great game.”
With sidelined senior forward Ashlynn Muhl watching from the stands, the Mustangs were able to hold off a furious second-half comeback attempt by the Broncos to earn a spot in tomorrow’s national championship contest. Morningside led by 16 points with 5:59 remaining – 55-39 – but Hastings had one last gasp left with the season on the brink.
The third-seeded squad was able to get the lead down to 64-60 with 31 seconds when the Mustangs’ Allison Bachman stole a wayward pass but her layup attempt rolled out. The Broncos raced to the other end and Michaela Barry drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to cut the lead to one. After Taylor Bahensky of Morningside made only one at the charity stripe, Hastings had a chance to tie or possibly win the game with a three-pointer.
The inbounds pass from Rachel Jelden with a couple ticks left on the clock went astray, opening the door for the Mustangs to once again put the game away. Bahensky left the window of opportunity still ajar as she only made one free throw.
Hastings was down 66-63 when once again the inbounds pass was too high. The season slipped away as the Broncos watched the Mustangs run out the clock to move on to Tuesday night.
Hastings head coach Carrie Hofstetter could not say enough about the effort of her team to get to the semifinals, especially the group of players who just walked off the court for the last time in a Broncos uniform.
“I am really proud of our seniors,” Hofstetter said. “Halley [Samuelson] and Sierra [Williamson] have been with me since I took the program over three years ago, and Van Kirk came to us at a time when we were coming off of a 15-16 season. She transferred to Hastings and believed in what we were doing.”
“All three of them have been phenomenal examples of what it looks like to be a great teammate, what it looks like to work really hard and represent our program in a really classy way.”
Van Kirk’s stellar career comes to a close with a game-high 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting. Fellow senior Samuelson joined her as the only other Bronco in double-figures (10 points and eight rebounds).
In the win, Jessica Tietz led the way for the Mustangs with 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Fellow players Taylor Bahensky tallied 14 and Lexi Ackerman also hit double-digits with 11 total points.
Hastings’ season ends at 25-9. Morningside (36-1) lives to play another day, and will face the winner of No. 1 Concordia (Neb.) and Briar Cliff (Iowa). The Mustangs have faced each club multiple times this season, with the Bulldogs owning the sole win, 80-72, on March 3 in the GPAC tournament championship game.
Tip for the national championship final will be at 7:02 p.m. CDT, and will be aired live nationally on ESPN3.com.