Madison Mittie didn’t see the floor the last time out for the Fort Hays State women’s basketball team when the Tigers captured an MIAA Tournament championship this past Sunday.
One game later, Mittie was contributing crucial minutes with Fort Hays State’s season hanging in the balance.
The Manhattan product turned in her best game of the season and a couple other Tigers also came up clutch off the bench late as FHSU held off Pittsburg State for a 74-65 victory in Friday's NCAA Division II Central Regional quarterfinal at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Mittie scored a season-high 11 points in 17 minutes and had a key layup to push FHSU’s lead to four with 1:02 left.
“In the conference championship game she didn’t get to play, so how easy would it have been for a kid to get down and half quit?” FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. “I think it’s just the coolest thing (to see Mittie's performance Friday). It says a lot about our kids. Next game it might be somebody else.
"I thought we needed a little pick-me up defensively and she usually pressures the ball well and then she hit that first three and kind of got in the confidence and the flow of the game.”
On a night where MIAA player of the year Tatyana Legette was held to six points and junior guard Lanie Page was slowed by a foot injury, the Tigers had others step up with big contributions while fighting off the Gorillas and advancing to Saturday’s night 7:30 p.m. semifinal against MSU-Moorhead.
Whitney Randall scored all seven of her points in the fourth quarter to help FHSU fend off the Gorillas, and freshman Hailey Walker hit a huge 3-pointer to put the Tigers up 10 with 5:51 left.
“That’s why we won the conference by three games — when (Legette’s) not quite maybe herself for one game, we have two or three other kids that can pick us up,” Hobson said. "We had a kid that didn’t even play last game get double figures and play a big part.
“Taylor (Rolfs) and Kacey (Kennett) have been taking over the point-guard role by themselves since we lost Carly (Heim) and they’ve done a good job. Then you have a freshman (Walker) — I don’t know if she even knows where she’s at right now — hit a nice, nice stepback three that moved it to (10). You just have contributions coming from everywhere.”
Mittie, a redshirt sophomore, was a bright spot for the Tigers in the first half, scoring seven points as the Tigers’ struggled to solve the Gorillas’ zone and found themselves trailing 31-29 at halftime.
“That was huge for us," Rolfs said of Mittie’s performance. “We needed that, big time. I was just really proud of her.”
Fort Hays (31-1) trailed by as much as eight in the first half and shot 36.7 percent from the field.
“(Hobson) did say, ‘Well, we’re lucky we’re not down 15,’ which is true,” Rolfs said. “We just had to be thankful that we were only down two and just keep our composure.”
Fort Hays led by a slim margin for most of the third quarter and opened up the 10-point lead after five straight points from Randall and Walker’s 3-pointer.
However, Pitt State (21-9) fought back to get the lead down to two twice late.
“When the girls came back in after their run, we told them, ‘Don’t you dare give up,’ and they wouldn’t,” first-year Pitt State coach Amanda Davied said. “The girls have done an awesome job all year. I’m just really proud of them.”
After Mittie’s layup gave FHSU a four-point cushion, Belle Barbieri came up with a 3-point play to push the lead to seven and Rolfs hit two free throws to restore the seven-point lead with 20 seconds left and help seal the Tigers their third win of the season over Pitt State.
“It was about what we expected,” Hobson said. “We knew it would be a battle. We just played them two weeks ago in the final game of the regular season and they played us to five. We knew that they were a talented bunch. Offensively they have a lot of good players and several shooters, a couple kids that can really get to the basket.
“It was just a real battle.”
Belle Barbieri led the Tigers with 17 points and Rolfs added 16. Kennett, who Hobson said has been battling injury, had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Tigers shot 48.3 percent from the field, aided by a 9 of 14 showing in the fourth after struggling in the first half.
“With their length, it’s really hard to cover it all but I thought the girls did a great job throughout the game of trying to cover it,” Davied said.
“They’re really quick and they move well in their zone,” Hobson said of the Gorillas. “It wasn’t easy to attack. We made just enough shots in the second half to win.”
Maya Williams led Pitt State with 17 points while Tristan Gegg finished with 16.
Fort Hays, which is hosting the regional tournament for the first time since 2015, drew an attendance of 3,345 for its regional opener.
“It’s sweet to have all these fans out here and be at home,” Kennett said. “It’s definitely a very new experience. We got a lot of fans, but this is intense. But it’s super cool to play in front of all of them and that definitely brings a lot more energy from the crowd.”
“Before the game, I saw the lines waiting to get in and I was like, ‘Wow, this is insane,' " Rolfs added. "I think it really helps us to want to play better for them, because they’re not here to watch us play bad.”
MSU Moorhead advanced to the semifinal to meet Fort Hays after pulling out a 63-54 win over Minnesota Duluth in a defensive struggle.
The Dragons shot just 34.5 percent from the field but held Duluth to 28.8 percent.
Jacky Volkert led Moorhead with 16 points while Madi Green added 14.