Jenna Stangler's (St. Michael, Minn./St. Michael-Albertville H.S.) eight-foot jumper with 30.6 seconds left put Valparaiso in front and Lauren Bechtold (Hebron, Ind./Hebron H.S.) iced the game with two free throws with 8.0 seconds left as the Crusaders defeated Western Illinois 49-45 on Monday afternoon to advance to the championship game of the Conoco Mid-Continent Conference Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Chicago, Fox Sports Detroit and Fox Sports Midwest at 5 p.m. (CST).
Stangler's jumper came after the Westerwinds rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to tie the game, and eventually take the lead late in the second half.
With Valpo trailing 7-6 early, the Brown and Gold went on a 12-2 run, capped off with a pair of Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) free throws to build an 18-9 lead at the 7:50 mark. The lead remained between eight and ten until Stangler's lay-in at the buzzer gave the Crusaders a 27-16 lead at intermission.
Valpo held Western Illinois to just 20.8% (5-of-24) shooting in the first half, and the 16 points allowed were second fewest allowed in a tournament game in Mid-Con history.
The Westerwinds climbed back into the game with a quick 6-0 outburst to start the second half. Two lay-ups by Zane Teilane and a Tiffany Cornelius jumper keyed the comeback.
After Valpo pushed the lead back to nine, Western went on a 13-3 run, allowing the Crusaders just one field goal over a 9:12 span. The Westerwinds took the lead, 37-36, at the 8:04 mark as Cornelius connected again.
The regular season champion's lead grew to two, 40-38, on another Cornelius lay-in before Kathryn Knoester (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) drained three from the left baseline to put Valpo back in front. The trey marked the 118th straight game the Crusaders have knocked down a triple try.
Jessica Cook put the Westerwinds back in front at the 4:07 mark, scoring in the lane. Boone hit a pair of free throws on the next possession to put the Brown and Gold back in front. Teilane split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 43 at the 2:42 mark.
Stangler got a fastbreak lay-in with 1:24 left, but Teilane answered on the next possession, setting up the final minute.
After Stangler knocked down the jumper to go up 47-45, Teilane grabbed a Western miss and got fouled. She missed both free throws, Jeanette Gray (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso H.S.) grabbed the board and Bechtold got fouled to seal the victory.
Stangler led all scorers with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting for Valpo (17-12). Boone added 12 points, making 10-of-12 from the line and grabbed seven rebounds. Gray pulled down ten boards.
Cornelius and Teilane led Western Illinois (21-8) with 14 points each and Teilane grabbed eight rebounds.
The Crusaders shot just 33.3% from the floor for the game, while Western Illinois shot 34.8%. Valpo made 20-of-24 free throws (83.3%), compared with the Westerwinds 13-of-21 (59.1%).
Valparaiso advances to the Mid-Con championship game for the third time in four years, facing Oakland for the Mid-Con title and the NCAA automatic bid in a rematch of last year's championship tilt. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Net Chicago with tip-off slated for 5 p.m. CST. The Crusaders have never won the conference tournament. Oakland was a 60-52 victor over Chicago State in Monday's other semifinal.