KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If the Fort Hays State women’s basketball team was still on the NCAA regional bubble before Saturday’s MIAA Tournament semifinal, the Tigers’ resume might now be bulletproof.
No. 3-seeded FHSU harassed No. 2 seed Pittsburg State into the Gorillas' worst offensive performance of the season, advancing to the tournament finals with a 52-46 win on Saturday in Municipal Auditorium.
The Tigers, now 25-5, entered the tournament ranked ninth in the region before notching wins over Emporia State and PSU, which is ranked fifth in the region. FHSU can officially lock up a regional spot with a win over No. 9 seed Lindenwood in the MIAA Tournament final at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“I think our win Thursday should have (been enough), but who knows with the way (the rankings) have been going,” FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. “But I think with wins over Emporia State and now Pitt — their strength of schedule is so high and now we have two wins over them— it should (clinch a regional berth) regardless of (Sunday’s) outcome.
“But we want to win a title, that’s what this is about.”
The Tigers will get that opportunity after holding the Gorillas (23-7) to just 17 of 57 from the field and 6 of 30 from 3-point range.
“Today was an absolute grinder,” PSU coach Lane Lord said. “All the credit goes to Hays. They played great defense. They really switched on to us and really challenged the 3-point shooter. Just made it difficult on us all day long.”
FHSU’s biggest defensive feat was holding Pittsburg State star Mikaela Burgess to just six points on 2-of-13 shooting.
“We have pretty good defenders,” FHSU point guard Carly Heim said. “Kacey (Kennett) and Taylor (Rolfs), they’ve shut down several of the best players from other teams in the conference. I think we just needed to talk and communicate and stay up because she is a good player. Once she gets rolling they all get rolling, so I think shutting her down was a big key and I knew that we could do that because our girls, they’re pretty tough.”
The Tigers set the tone with a dominant 19-6 first quarter that saw PSU go 3 of 16 from the field.
“I thought it was really key that we got off to such a good start,” Hobson said. “We struggled so bad (in Thursday’s 57-54 win over ESU) to score points, so you when you have a 19-point first quarter, I think that kind of took that thought out of our heads and we forgot about (Thursday) and the struggles we had.”
FHSU led 25-18 at halftime and saw its lead expand to 42-25 by the end of the third quarter. The Tigers controlled possession of the ball for nearly a two-minute stretch late in the third, thanks to three offensive rebounds and a technical foul.
“We missed a lot of shots Thursday, so there’s a lot of opportunities for offensive rebounds,” Hobson said. “You hate to bring that up in a huddle, but I’d bring that up in a huddle. We wanted to make sure we had some crashers going.
“We all scrapped around and got some loose ones, so that helped a lot.”
FHSU survived a late surge from the Gorillas, who used an 18-6 run to cut the lead down to five with 2:23 left.
“You almost expected that,” Hobson said. “I didn’t expect, ‘Ok, they’ll lay down and we’ll win by 24.’ I knew they were going to make a run, it was just (about) if we could contain it and maintain our composure.”
Pitt had a chance to creep within three but missed two free throws with 38 seconds left, capping off an 6-for-19 showing at the line.
“We died at the line today,” Lord said.
Heim led all scorers with 15 points while Emma Stoyan added 12 points and five blocks. Kennett pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds for the Tigers.
Brenlee McPherson was the lone Gorilla in double figures, scoring 13.
Lord believes the Gorillas and Tigers are assured spots in the regional.
“The great news is we're not done and Hays isn’t done,” Lord said. “We’ll get to see them again next week and we’re excited about that opportunity.”
After upsetting top-seeded Central Missouri on Thursday, Lindenwood (19-12) advanced to the final with a 59-41 win over Missouri Western.