For three quarters, the frenetic pace of Friday's NCAA Division II Central Regional quarterfinal with Southwestern Oklahoma State seemed to suit Emporia State.
ESU built a 10-point lead late in the third quarter, but just when the Hornets looked on the verge of putting the Bulldogs away, they ran out of steam.
Emporia State was outscored 19-5 in the fourth quarter, ending their first season under Toby Wynn with a 71-65 loss to SWOSU at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"I thought we got some good, clean looks there in the fourth quarter, shots we were making in the first three quarters," Wynn said. "It's a long season and fatigue starts setting in and it gets harder to harder to keep playing and that kind of stuff. For whatever reason, in that fourth quarter we could just not to pull it in."
The Hornets (22-9), who handled the pressure of SWOSU well for most of the way, used an 11-0 run to take a 60-50 lead with 1:11 left third quarter. But the Bulldogs scored the next nine and later tied it up on a 3-pointer from Hayden Priddy with 5:22 left.
Five straight points from Priddy gave SWOSU a 67-62 lead 1:39 remaining. ESU was still within three late but the Bulldogs put it away after Addie Lackey's 3-pointer came up short for the Hornets with 14 seconds left.
SWOSU, the No. 2 seed in the regional tourney, avenged a season-opening loss to ESU and have since won 31 straight. The Bulldogs will meet Central Missouri (25-6) in the semifinal at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Hailey Tucker led SWOSU with 20 points and Priddy added 18. SWOSU shot 38.6 percent from the field and ESU went 36.6 percent.
"I was really proud of our players," Wynn said. "They did a good job defensively. The thing that got us early on defensively is we didn't do a good job of marking No. 12 (Tucker) — she had nine points in the first quarter and three 3-pointers. That was somebody we had to make sure we guarded.
"Then in the second half, Priddy got going there in the third quarter. We felt like we had to limit two of the three, between (Taylor) Hedrick, Priddy and Tucker. We kept Hedrick down but Priddy and Tucker played well enough to score offensively."
ESU went just 2 of 12 from the floor in the fourth quarter.
"I know everybody says defense wins championship, but you got to have some offense and put the ball in the basket sometimes too," Wynn said.
Senior Tyra Jones scored a team-high 17 points for the Hornets, who returned to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.
"I'm super proud of them," Wynn said. "We could have thrown in the towel a couple times throughout the course of the season. They kept fighting back and worked through adversity. For them just to get in and have an opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament to play against these guys again is just a remarkable performance on their part. I thought everybody we put in the game today contributed for us and gave us some good minutes."
"Emporia State has a long history NCAA Tournament appearances and it was a real disappointment last year not making it," added ESU senior Emily Miller.
Just being a senior that was definitely the goal (to return to the tournament). Obviously we came up short this year, not advancing, but like coach said, I think some day I'll look back and I'll be thankful that I got to play in the NCAA Tournament."