Fort Hays women end season in regional semis at UCM

FHSU Sports Information
FHSU's Jaden Hobbs shoots a jumper during the Tigers' regional semifinal loss at Central Missouri on Saturday.

WARRENSBURG, Mo. – Fort Hays State women's basketball engaged in a back-and-forth battle with Central Missouri on Saturday night, but came up on the short end of a 72-68 score. The MIAA regular season champion Tigers ended another strong season under head coach Tony Hobson at 22-4, while UCM moved on to the regional championship game at 21-4.

Three of the four teams reaching the semifinals in the Central Region all had 20 wins on the season. FHSU topped the MIAA in the regular season and entered the tournament 22-3, while Nebraska-Kearney won the MIAA Tournament and also entered at 22-3. Central Missouri moved to 20-4 with a win in the opening round on Friday night before knocking off the Tigers on their home floor Saturday evening. The Central Region was the only region in the NCAA Tournament boasting three 20-win teams going into the semifinals on Saturday evening.

Fort Hays State started the game strong on a 6-0 run, but a turnover by the Tigers after a missed UCM shot led to UCM's first points of the game. That triggered a 10-0 run by the Jennies before Jaden Hobbs snapped the run with a 3-point field goal. By the end of the first quarter, UCM held a slim 16-14 lead.

The Jennies never trailed in the second quarter and stretched their lead to seven twice. A pair of Hobbs 3-pointers reeled the Jennies back in and the Tigers eventually took a one-point lead with 1:06 to go in the period on a Jessie Sallach jumper. However, UCM charged into the lead again with its seventh 3-point field goal of the half and added a free throw to lead 42-39 at halftime. The Jennies shot a red-hot 53.8 percent from the field in the opening half, including 58.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc. FHSU stayed with UCM in the frantic back-and-forth offensive battle, shooting 53.3 percent for the half. Hobbs had all four 3-point field goals for the Tigers at the half.

The Jennies pushed their lead to seven once again in the third quarter at the 5:11 mark, but the Tigers did not back down. Freshmen Sallach and Katie Wagner accounted for an 8-2 Tiger run, each with four points to get the Tigers back within one, 53-52, at the end of the period.

Both teams went blow for blow in the fourth as the lead changed hands eight times before entering the final three minutes of the game. FHSU took the lead by one four times, the latest on a Whitney Randall layup off a nice dish from Hobbs at the 4:05 mark. However, that was the last time the Tigers led in the game. Graycen Holden, who tied for a team-high 17 points and six rebounds for the Jennies, made a free-throw line jumper to put the Jennies ahead for good.

Lauryn Reither gave the Tigers a fighting chance late when she buried a right-wing 3-pointer to cut the UCM lead to two. Holden made just one of two free throws, giving the Tigers a chance to tie late. Unfortunately a Hobbs 3-pointer fell off the mark a couple of ticks before the buzzer and UCM was fouled on the rebound. Brooke Littrell put the game on ice for UCM by hitting the second of a pair of free tosses.

Hobbs led the Tigers with 19 points, going 5-of-12 beyond the 3-point line. She also had a team-high six rebounds and three assists. Hobbs broke the FHSU single-season records for 3-point field goal percentage (44.9), passing Audra Binford's 44.4 percent from 2009-10, and assists per game (6.0), passing Maisha Prewitt's 5.4 per game in 1998-99. Hobbs played every minute of FHSU's final three postseason games this year (vs. Emporia State and Nebraska-Kearney in the MIAA Tournament, and Saturday's regional semifinal).

Wagner finished with 13 points, while Sallach added 10 to join Hobbs in double figures.

UCM had four players finish in double figures for scoring, led by Holden and Littrell. Olivia Nelson added 16 and Nija Collier dropped 11 before fouling out late.

The Tigers enjoyed their 10th consecutive 20-win season under head coach Tony Hobson, impressively reached during a regular season with just a maximum of 22 games. Central Missouri has the next-best active streak at half of that with five in a row. FHSU celebrated its third MIAA regular season title in the last seven years.