SALINA, Kan. — Championship caliber teams find ways to win in big situations.
For the No. 1 ranked Trinity Valley Community College Lady Cardinals, Friday night’s national semifinal contest against No. 4 seed Gulf Coast, a key stop by sophomore Krystle Henderson preserved a, 75-71, win to send them into the finals Saturday night against Central Arizona. Central Arizona defeated Hutchinson, 52-40, in the other semifinal game at the Bicentennial Center.
“We were looking for Krystle to protect the basket and that was a big stop for her in the game,” First year coach Elena Lovato said. “It was a great hustle play and my team is not going to back down.”
Gulf Coast was looking to tie the game at, 73-73, with 40 seconds remaining as Necole Sterling was off to the races on a fastbreak until Henderson noticed the two-on-one fast break and knocked the ball away to preserve the win.
“I figured if we did not get a score, we had the ball coming in out of bounds and if we did not get that score then we had to play lock down defense,” Henderson said. “When I saw the 2-on-1, I knew I had to take the ball and I took it.”
Gulf Coast head coach Vernette Skeete said her team did not run the play right and the team did not have the toughness they needed to beat the Lady Cardinals.
“We really did not run that play right and I was more frustrated with not making the layup that was wide open earlier in the game,” Skeete said. “We needed to be a little more tougher tonight.”
First-year coach Elena Lovato’s team is now 35-1 on the year. The Lady Cardinals are also a perfect 10-0 in national semifinal contest.
"It is definitely not going to be an easy road," Lovato said about reaching the national championship game. "I have a group of girls who will fight until the buzzer I tell you what."
TVCC held their biggest lead of the contest at, 57-30, with 15 minutes remaining in the second half on a hustle play by Savannah Carter as she was able to recover a loose ball.
On the play, Carter found Shlonte’ Allen streaking down the baseline as she was able to make a spin move around the Gulf Coast defender and scored on the old-fashioned 3-point play.
But the Commodores would not go down without a fight as they cut the lead down to five at, 66-61, on a put back by Sterling with just over six minutes remaining in the contest.
“We knew they were a team that if we could match their toughness we would be fine,” Skeete said. “We were not able to do that tonight.”
Earlier in the second half, the Lady Cards found a way to break open a, 33-33 tie, with a 10-2 run in the opening four minutes of play.
Lovato said she was pleased with the intensity that her team came out with following the intermission.
“I thought our half court slowed them down and made them through the ball away,” Lovato said. “We made a nice little run there after the half and I think that is what kept us in the game tonight.”
During the run, the Lady Cards had two baskets by Carter, a three-pointer by Shannon Smith and a fast break layup by Allen off the assists from Victoria Wells.
After a 31-point game against Weatherford on Thursday night, Smith came out with another solid performance scoring a team high 23 points against Gulf Coast. She also had one assists and shot a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
“She (Smith) is so methodical with what she does on the court” Lovato said. “She played really good tonight for us once again.”
Gulf Coast found a way to put together a 5-0 run on the Lady Cards to cut the deficit to, 69-66, with 1:54 remaining on a rebound basket by Jessica Morton, a jumper by Tamara Taylor and two free throws by Morton.
TVCC did not let that phase them as Allen scored a fast break layup and Smith scored a layup of her own to put the game out of reach.
“I think we did not execute enough tonight,” Skeete said. “We might have been tired at times but we had some mental lapses tonight in the game. We knew coming in if we gave them the light of day, they would burn us and they did that.”
Allen finished the game with 19 points, eight rebounds and two steals before fouling out of the game, while Adut Bulgak had a double double with 13 points, 11 rebounds one assists, one block and two steals.
Gulf Coast was led by Sterling with a game high 26 points.
Henderson said fans can expect to see a very focused and determined team Saturday night in the championship game against Central Arizona.
“It is very important and if we have to continue doing what we have been doing all season,” Henderson said. “We have to go hard, stay humble and play together like a team.”