For the second straight season, Valparaiso won the Hereford House Mid-Continent Conference Tournament, as the Crusaders defeated Oral Roberts 64-63 on Tuesday afternoon in Kansas City, Mo. With the win, the Crusaders are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history.
The Crusaders never trailed in the second half but was never able to build a lead larger than six the entire stanza. With the game tied at 32 at intermission, the teams seemingly traded baskets in the second half. A Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) lay-in at the 13:41 mark gave Valpo a six point advantage, 48-42. The advantage was short lived though, as the Golden Eagles fought back to tie the contest at 52 with 8:53 to play.
After Valpo split a pair of free throws, Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) grabbed the rebound, scored and was fouled to complete a three-point play, beginning six straight Crusader points. The lead remained at five, 62-57, with 2:44 left before back-to-back baskets by Leah Cannon and Katie Langford cut the led to one at the 2:02 mark.
Jenna Stangler (St. Michael, Minn./St. Michael-Albertville H.S.) grabbed an offensive board for the Crusaders and was fouled. Her two free thrwos put Valpo back in front by three, 64-61, with 1:35 to play. An Oral Roberts turnover and a Valpo missed free throw allowed the Golden Eagles a chance to tie, but a missed three-pointer turned into a putback for Langford to cut the lead to one. Valpo missed two more free throws, but Langford's game-winning three-point attempt missed the mark with four seconds remaining and Besty Rietema (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) grabbed the board for Valpo. She was fouled with 0.2 seconds remaining, securing the Crusaders return trip to the Big Dance.
Oral Roberts (17-13) led for the majority of the first eight minutes of the game, taking a 14-11 lead with 13:01 left. Valpo went on a 13-2 spurt, the largest of the game, to build a 24-16 advantage with 8:27 to play. A Kathryn Knoester (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) put Valpo in front for good during the run, and followed it up with a steal and a lay-in.
The Golden Eagles fought back with a late 9-3 run, and tied the game at intermission after an Elisha Turek basket late in the half.
Stangler led the Crusaders with 12 points while Rietema and Meredith Baugher (Berea, Ohio/Berea H.S.) added 11 each. Hammel dished out seven assists while committing just one turnover, and Boone grabbed a team-high six rebounds.
Cannon led Oral Roberts with 17 points, while Turek and Langford added 12 each for the Golden Eagles. Turek grabbed a game-high ten rebounds, while Cannon dished out eight assists.
Both teams shot well, with Valpo connecting on 49.1% from the floor and Oral Roberts making 48.1% of their attempts. Oral Roberts outrebounded the Crusaders 33-27, but Valpo committed just ten turnovers while forcing 13.
With the victory, Valpo (20-11) earned its fourth 20-win season in school history. The Crusaders will have to wait until Sunday to learn who they will face in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, which begins March 20-21.