WARRENSBURG, Mo. — The best start in Fort Hays State women’s basketball history got a whole lot better on Thursday at Central Missouri. 

The Tigers notched their best victory of the season so far, using a strong fourth quarter to down the defending national champion Jennies 56-46 victory at the UCM Multipurpose Building. 

No. 5-ranked FHSU (12-0, 3-0 MIAA) led 39-37 early in the fourth quarter before using a 9-0 run to gain separation from No. 15-ranked UCM (8-3, 1-2 MIAA). 

Fort Hays junior forward Belle Barbieri and senior point guard Carly Heim each scored 14 points while Kacey Kennett added 10. Barbieri scored 12 points in the first half and finished 7-of-7 from the field.

“It was a big win for us,” Heim told MIAA writer David Boyce. “I thought we did a lot of little things right. It feels good to get a second chance at them. They did knock us out of the tournament last year.

“I think we played really well. We showed a lot of toughness. I think it is great for our season. I hope it continues.”

With the win, Fort Hays coach Tony Hobson tied Helen Miles for the most coaching victories in program history, moving to 217-92 in his 11th season. Miles went 217-154 from 1971-86 at FHSU.  

The Tigers, who avenged last year’s loss to the Jennies in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, led for 34:24 of the game, never trailing after grabbing a 15-14 lead with 1:53 left in the first quarter. 

FHSU led 19-16 at the end of the first quarter, 27-24 at halftime and 39-35 at the end of the third. 

A bucket from Megan Skaggs brought the Jennies within two with 9:48 left before FHSU went on the 9-0 run, consisting of two free throws from Heim, a 3-pointer from Lanie Page and back-to-back layups from Kennett. 

UCM cut it to eight with 3:07 left but another Kennett layup restored a 10-point lead with 2:14 left and Heim hit two free throws to push it to 12 with 1:18 remaining. 

Fort Hays held the Jennies to just 32 percent from the field (17 of 53) from the field. FHSU finished 23 of 51 from the floor for 45 percent. 

FHSU overcame a 2-for-12 night from 3-point range by doing most of their damage inside, led by Barbieri, whose 14 points matched her career high. 

"We knew it was all about sealing,” Barbieri told Boyce. “I was able to finish strong. A lot of it comes with the guards, making passes and giving us good looks. I have such unselfish players on the team who make good passes.”

All-American guard Paige Redmond led UCM with 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting while Skaggs added 10.

Up next the Tigers will play at Southwest Baptist at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday in Bolivar, Mo.