For the third straight season and the fifth time in the last seven years, Valparaiso is headed to the Hereford House Mid-Continent Conference Tournament championship game following the Crusaders 66-54 victory over UMKC on Monday afternoon in the semifinals.
The Crusaders defense led the way for the first 30 minutes, helping the Brown and Gold build a lead as large as 25 midway through the second half. UMKC shot just 33.3% from the floor for the game and made just 7-of-24 (29.2%) of its attempts in the first half.
The Kangaroos held an early 15-11 lead with 7:24 to play in the opening stanza before Valpo scored 13 unanswered points to take the lead for good. Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) started and finished the run with three-pointers, and Meredith Baugher (Berea, Ohio/Berea H.S.) added four points. The Crusaders took a nine-point advantage into the locker room, 28-19.
Following intermission, Valpo made its big run. Leading by eight, the Crusaders outscored the Kangaroos 14-2 over 3:25 to take a 20-point lead as Suzie Hammel (Lafayette, Ind./Lebanon H.S.) tallied nine points during the spurt. The Crusaders made a living at the free throw line midway through the half, making 18 second half free throws in building the largest lead, 59-34, with just 7:14 to play. UMKC (15-14) closed the game on a 13-4 run over the final 2:19, but by that time it was too late for the Kangaroos.
Gutowski led the Crusaders with 14 points off of the bench and Baugher added 13 more for the Brown and Gold. Baugher added 13 points, all in the first half, while Hammel chipped in ten and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds. Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) scored six points, all from the free throw line, grabbed seven boards, and dished out seven assists.
Carlai Moore, Erin Pauk, and Jayme Sweere led UMKC with ten points each, with Moore also grabbing ten rebounds.
The second-seeded Crusaders advance to Tuesday's championship tilt against fifth-seeded Oral Roberts, a come-from-behind 72-70 winner in overtime over Western Illinois. Valpo (19-11) looks to defend its title from last season in the 2:30 p.m. CST tip-off. The game will be aired live on Fox Sports Net Chicago and Midwest, along with other selected affiliates.