Lady Royals survive gutsy semifinal game with 60-56 win

Sam Herder
Kristal Flowers works in the post in the second half of Wednesday's Region 13 semifinal game versus Williston State College. Flowers scored 21 points and grabbed 18 rebounds as LRSC came back to win 60-56.

By Sam Herder

Journal Sports Editor

A win is a win, especially in the postseason.

For 35 minutes, the Lake Region State College women’s basketball team played uncharacteristically. But even with a 1-for-16 3-point shooting performance while giving up 13 offensive rebounds, 11 in the first half, LRSC found a way to defeat Williston State College 60-56 in the Region 13 semifinals.

“We didn’t quit,” Royals head coach Danny Mertens said. “How many games have we went 1-for-16 from 3s? We haven’t done it all year. But that’s a credit to these kids. We kept after it and got stops when we needed to.”

It wasn’t easy for the No. 1 seed Lady Royals. Every possession was tough, no rebound was unchallenged and every loose ball was a battle against the fourth-seeded Tetons.

LRSC had to claw back from a 7-point deficit in the fourth quarter and was able to make one more play in the final minutes.

The win advances the Royals to their 16th straight regional title game and one win shy of punching their ticket to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament.

“It was hard and wasn’t easy,” sophomore center Kristal Flowers said. “But we just had to keep the big picture of nationals in mind and that motivated me.”

For most of the game, WSC pestered the Royals into turnovers. The turnovers led to LRSC being out of sync on offense, and when they did get open looks, the Royals weren’t able to knock them down.

“We turned down some good shots,” Mertens said. “We missed our first couple and we got in our own minds and couldn’t knock them down. (The Tetons) got out and contested a lot of shots. They did a good job.”

Meanwhile, the Tetons were able to hit timely shots while extending possessions with offensive rebounds. WSC took a 17-16 lead with just under seven minutes left in the second quarter and held that lead until five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Flowers began to take over the game. The Mon-Dak All-Conference first team center scored seven straight points to give her team a 54-52 lead with four minutes, nine seconds to play.

“I was kind of demanding (the ball) because we’ve been working on our post moves in practice every day,” Flowers said. “I knew if they could just get it in, I could deliver.”

Flowers was also dealt with the task of keeping the likes of Jamie Gleeson and Nikira Hooks from crashing the boards. The sophomore’s busy night resulted in 21 points and 18 rebounds.

“I challenged Kristal from the beginning,” Mertens said. “We had to ride her shoulders. I really felt that was going to be a key. Looks like 21 points and 18 rebounds ... riding some big shoulders there.”

After Gleeson tied it with two free throws 90 seconds later to break the tie, Mackenzie Irwin completed a huge and-1 with two minutes remaining and LRSC retook the lead, 57-54.

A Teton basket with 57 seconds left made it 57-56.

After draining the shot clock down, the Royals missed a shot, but a scramble for the rebound was won by Irwin and the Royals called a timeout with 22.2 seconds left, a new possession and the shot clock turned off.

WSC was forced to foul twice to send Cassidy Nelson to the line. Nelson made both free throws to give LRSC a 59-56 lead with 14.2 ticks left.

After two timeouts, the Tetons inbounded the ball in front of their own bench. But the pass was too high and rolled out of bounds.

Kennedy Henningsgard was fouled and sunk one free throw with 3.2 seconds left to seal the 60-56 win.

“You take a bad win sometimes,” Mertens said. “I said from the beginning, give credit to this Williston team. They’re a lot better than their record and I knew it was going to be a battle.”

The Royals overcame a 28.6 percent shooting performance in the first half and shot 45.7 percent in the second. LRSC was aided by its bench again with 27 points compared to WSC’s four.

“It means a lot because we struggled in the first half,” Flowers said. “But we came out and put our hearts into it and came out on top.”

LRSC hosts North Dakota State College of Science in the Region 13 championship game at noon Sunday.

The winner qualifies for the national tournament, but will still host a District game on March 5.

“Hopefully we learn to come out with a little more intensity,” Mertens said. “But you just move on. I told them, we’re one game away from the national tournament. You have 40 minutes to get there.”

Statistics

Kristal Flowers: 21 pts, 18 reb

Cassidy Nelson: 15 pts, 8 reb

Kennedy Henningsgard: 12 pts, 7 reb, 3 ast

Helen Schuster: 7 pts, 3 reb, 2 ast

Mackenzie Irwin: 5 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast