By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
The Bluefield College Lady Rams basketball team is glad to have a second chance in the second season.
After falling last week in the Mid-South Conference tournament, Bluefield was able to land a berth in the National Christian College Athletic Association Mid-East Regional.
Thursday night at the Dome Gymnasium the Lady Rams hosted the four-team event and in the nightcap defeated Covenant College (13-11) 81-60. The win puts BC one game from the NCCAA National Tournament.
“College ball is all about the experience and the fact that we got a second chance, we blew the first one (in the MSC tournament), the fact that we get a second chance and get to participate in the National Christian College Athletic Tournament is an honor for us. That’s the foundation of our school,” said Bluefield head coach M.J. Baker. “To participate against other Christian schools from DII, NAIA and DIII, it’s kind of fun when you cross borders.”
Bluefield (16-14) opened an early eight point lead only to see the Lady Scots from Lookout Mountain, Ga., pull even at 15 with just under 14 minutes remaining in the opening half.
Following a timeout, Bluefield went on a roll and outscored Covenant 22-11 the rest of the half, thanks in big parts to 17 first half points from Teqa McNeal, six rebounds of which five were on the offensive boards from Janee Simmons, and five rebounds from Cortney Pattison.
Ashley “Penny” White had four assists and a steal in the first 20 minutes and as a team Bluefield connected on 8-of-11 free throws to take a 37-26 halftime lead.
“We didn’t finish well early in the game. We missed a lot of layups and on the defensive end we were having trouble guarding ball screen,” Baker said. “We just made a couple of adjustments and were able to belly up and get over them, fight through them and rebound the ball.”
Haley Soles kept Covenant within striking distance as she drilled two first half threes. Starters Kiaira Cooper and Jessica Chittenden saw limited playing time due to foul issues, Cooper playing only three minutes.
The Lady Rams extended their lead quickly in the second half. Monique Robson’s jumper from the foul line 30 seconds in, and White’s trey gave the home team its biggest lead of the evening, 16 points, just one minute into the half.
Covenant, however, battled back and on three different occasions cut the Bluefield lead from 17 points down to 11, the final time on another Soles three at the eight minute mark. Each time BC’s defense came to the fore as it forced turnovers the led to run-out baskets for the Lady Rams.
McNeal’s three point play with six-and-a-half minutes left and another three point play the old-fashioned way by Maryah Mazyck with 5:51 to go gave Bluefield a 70-47 lead and Covenant could draw no closer.
All five Lady Rams’ starters finished in double-figure scoring, led by McNeal with 22. White added 19, Simmons 17, Mazyck 11 and Robson 10. Simmons had a game-high 12 rebounds, eight of them on the offensive side of the court. White dished out seven assists and McNeal had four steals.
Soles led Covenant with 18 points, coming on six three point baskets. Chittenden tallied 11 and Jessie Blankenship pulled down 10 rebounds.
“Teqa, Penny and Janee are our three-headed monster,” Baker said. “They make us go. They are the heart of the team. When they are not going, we are not going. They came out and they really kick-started us, Janee with rebounding, and then Teqa with her defense, running the court, and then Penny distributing the ball.”
With all players returning next season with the exception of White, Baker talked about the importance of the extra practices that come along with postseason play.
“It’s really important to get the extra work in, to grow as a team and get better,” Baker noted. “We’re going to miss Penny, our point guard, but we hope to send her out with a nice ending by winning tomorrow and getting to nationals.”
Bluefield will play Union University of Jackson, Tenn., tonight at 7 o’clock, with the winner heading to the NCCAA National Tournament.
Union advanced by beating Tennessee Temple 83-39. BC and Baker know they have a tough opponent.
“My assistant scouted them earlier in the season and they are a three point shooting team,” Baker commented. “We’ve really got to guard the three point line and box out.”
Union 83, Tennessee Temple 39
Ten different players got into the scoring column for Union University (19-8) as the Bulldogs beat the Crusaders of Tennessee Temple (15-15) in the first game of the Mid-East regional.
Union made 19-of-39 three point shots in the contest and coasted to victory after building a 43-23 halftime lead.
Astrid Huttemann and Amber Rechis each scored 15 points to lead Union. All of their points came on baskets from behind the arc as each record five three point baskets. LaTesa McLaughlin and Amy Philamlee each dished out six assists, while Philamlee and Shelby Ashcraft had three steals apiece.
Amber Charles led Tennessee Temple with 12 points and TaQuasha O’Neal added 11.