KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Fort Hays State took the first step in defending its MIAA Tournament Championship title from last year by defeating Pittsburg State in Friday's quarterfinals. Up six going into the fourth quarter, the Tigers pulled away for a 69-53 win. FHSU is now 23-6 overall and moves on to Saturday's semifinal game against Central Missouri (25-4) at noon.


Fort Hays State never trailed in the opening half, building a five-point lead by the end of the first quarter at 16-11. The Tigers pushed their lead to 10 with an 8-0 run in the early portion of the second quarter, but the Gorillas whittled the lead back down to three. However, Jaden Hobbs hit a 3-point field goal for the half's final bucket, putting the Tigers up six, 29-23, at halftime.


Pittsburg State fought back and grabbed its first lead of the game by opening the second half on a 15-6 run, culminating in a three-point play by Maya Williams. But, Madison Mittie and Kacey Kennett delivered back-to-back blows with consecutive 3-point field goals, giving the Tigers the edge by three.


Pitt State used a 5-0 burst to push back in front by two, 43-41, before FHSU ended the third quarter on a 10-2 run, taking a six-point lead of 51-45 to the final quarter.


The Gorillas trimmed the lead to four early in the fourth quarter the Tigers used a 12-0 run to put the game away. Whitney Randall sparked the run with four of the first six points. Her jumper at the top of the key with 6:50 remaining pushed the lead to 10 for FHSU. Kennett took care of the next five points with a pair of free throws and then a dagger 3-point field goal with 4:44 remaining. A Taylor Rolfs free throw capped the run, giving the Tigers a lead of 16 with just over four minutes to play. The Tigers clamped down defensively and allowed just two more PSU baskets as they stayed even in scoring with the Gorillas for the final few minutes.


Kennett led the scoring effort for FHSU with 19 points, going 6-of-14 from the field, which included a 4-of-7 effort beyond the 3-point line. She added three free throws. Randall, FHSU's leading scorer at halftime with 10, finished with 16 also on a 6-of-14 effort from the field, which included one 3-point field goals and three free throws. Belle Barbieri had 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, while pulling down nine rebounds and dishing out four assists. Hobbs led the Tigers in assists with six, while playing the entire 40 minutes.


Point guard Kaylee DaMitz led PSU in scoring with 20 points. Williams was the only other Gorilla in double figures with 12.


FHSU shot 41.7 percent from the field overall, while limiting PSU to 35.3 percent. The Tigers held the Gorillas to just five 3-point field goals, while hitting eight of their own.


The Tigers meet Central Missouri for the second time this year on Saturday. UCM won the only regular season meeting 76-69, pulling away late with the game tied going into the final minute. FHSU went scoreless in the final two minutes of that game and UCM ended the game on a 9-0 run.