Fourth-ranked Tigers secure narrow win over Central Oklahoma, 56-55

Fresh off securing its first ever MIAA Regular Season Championship, the fourth-ranked Fort Hays State Women’s Basketball team picked up a narrow, 56-55, win over Central Oklahoma Thursday evening. FHSU is now 25-2 overall on the year and 17-1 in the MIAA.

The Tigers, ranked first in the latest NCAA Central Region rankings, continued to make a strong case in their bid to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005. The conference championship is the first ever outright conference title for FHSU in its NCAA Division II history, and the first title since sharing the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship in 1994-95.

Slow for both teams at the start, FHSU and UCO shot just 25 percent in the game’s first five minutes, and the Tigers led by four, 11-7, at the second media timeout (9:47). Prior the break, Paige Lunsford and Beth Bohuslavsky hit jumpers as part of a 6-0 run that saw FHSU go scoreless for nearly four minutes.

Out of the timeout, UCO stopped a seven-minute scoring drought to cut the lead back to two (11-9), but five straight from Jill Faxon helped the Tigers start a 17-3 run that lasted over eight minutes and put the Tigers lead at 16 (28-12) nearing the final minute. Overall, FHSU closed the run with 12 straight before a pair of free throws by UCO stopped the run, sending the teams to half with FHSU ahead, 28-14.

Keriann Shaw was strong force in the first half minutes for the Tigers, pulling down 11 boards in 17 minutes of play while Faxon’s nine points led the team at the break. Additionally, Kate Lehman‘s four first points was enough to move her into second all-time on FHSU’s career scoring list, passing Shauna Porter (who had 1,791 career points).

After the pause, FHSU was forced to battle another strong second half push from its opponents as the Bronchos went on a 14-4 run to start the half, cutting the Tigers’ lead to four (32-28) with 15:21to play. After back-and-forth play over the next seven minutes before a pair of UCO free throws shrunk the deficit to one (43-42) and 8:27. Faxon, however, responded with a clutch three-pointer on the opposite end to put FHSU’s lead back in two-possession territory.

With 3:26 to go, a three-pointer from UCO’s McKenzie Solbert tied the game at 53, but the Tigers again responded with a big bucket on the other end – this time coming on a layup from Lunsford. UCO answered to draw within one again, 56-55, around the two-minute mark, but that was as close as UCO could come despite intense play down the stretch.

FHSU was whistled for a travel with 17.3 seconds to go, setting up UCO for a possible game-winner in the final seconds of action, but the Bronchos were called for a charge on the offensive end with just seven seconds remaining. After free throws on the other end failed to drop for the Tigers, Shaw came up with a key offensive rebound to help seal the win.

Faxon finished the game as the top scorer for FHSU, dropping 10 points with four three-pointers to go with eight rebounds (tying a career-high). Chelsea Mason had 13 points, while Shaw pulled down a career-high 14 rebounds and moved past the 500 mark in career rebounds.

Kate Lehman had with 11 boards, adding six points and four blocks in the effort. She is now just four blocks away from overtaking the No. 2 spot on the NCAA Division II career blocks list. Bohuslavsky had seven points and four assists as well.

UCO’s Chelsea Robinson had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Bronchos while Julia Mason tallied 17 points.

The regular season finale for the Tigers is this Saturday at Northeastern State. FHSU and the RiverHawks tip off at 1:30 p.m., in a rematch of a 71-41 victory for the Tigers earlier this season in Hays.

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