BILLINGS — A late comeback and some pivotal last-minute turnovers helped Montana Western advance to the semifinals of the NAIA Division I women's basketball tournament for the second straight season.

The Bulldogs, ranked No. 4 in the NAIA coaches’ poll, beat No. 5 The Master’s (California) 60-55 on Saturday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark to set up a semifinal rematch with Freed-Hardeman, which ended Western's season at that stage a year ago.

“We came out a little flat, but we’re really good at hyping each other up and getting back in it,” said Western sophomore Shannon Worster. “We were pumped.”

The No. 1-seeded Bulldogs (27-3) used a 9-0 run to take a 22-15 lead midway through the second quarter, but the No. 2-seeded Mustangs (28-3) ended the period on an 8-2 run. The run grew to 23-4 with 4:01 left the third quarter, giving The Master’s a 38-26 lead.

Staring down a 44-33 deficit at the end of the third, Western senior Cierra Lamey beat the buzzer with a bank-in 3-pointer.

“We needed that,” said Western senior guard Brianna King.

Lamey’s shot started a 14-2 run for the Bulldogs, who took a 47-46 lead with 7:01 to go.

The rest of the game was a tug of war. The Mustangs went ahead 51-47 with 3:40 left and 53-49 a minute later. With 1:03 left, sophomore Paige Holmes hit a 3 (her first and only made field goal of the game) to put Western up 55-53.

The Master’s 6-foot-6 freshman Stephanie Soares tied it up at 0:41 with a pair of free throws. With 22 seconds to go, Worster made a layup to give Western a 57-55 lead.

Worster’s bucket turned out to be a game-winner, but those final 22 seconds took their time ticking off.

After a timeout, Mustangs junior Hannah Forrar received a pass at midcourt and tried to dribble past King. The NAIA player of the year swiped at the ball and knocked it off Forrar’s left knee. The contact was clean, and the ball rolled out of bounds, giving Western possession with 18.2 seconds left.

“She didn’t look too comfortable with the ball, and we had a couple fouls to give, so I thought, ‘Why not? Get up there,’” King said.

King thought the play sealed the win, but she turned it over on the next possession. Fortunately for Western, Mustangs sophomore Rebekah Throns gave it right back with a travel. Holmes sunk two free throws, the Master’s came up empty on its next offensive trip and the Bulldogs began preparing for their postgame celebration, which featured “a lot of yelling” in the locker room, King said.

“Just really excited to go on,” she said.

Four Western players finished with double-digit point totals — senior Britt Cooper (14), King (12), Lamey (10) and senior Tori Anderson (10). Lamey grabbed eight rebounds, while King added six rebounds and four assists.

Soares scored 14 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, sophomore Anika Neuman posted a game-high 16 points and junior Sabrina Thompson added 12 points.

“We had every fan against us. They’re basically playing a home game,” said The Master’s coach Dan Waldeck. “They have six seniors, and they played like it.”

None of those seniors are ready for their careers to end Monday. The top-ranked team in the nation stands in Western’s way of Tuesday’s title game.

Freed-Hardeman 82, Lewis-Clark State 60

Lewis-Clark State’s successful return to the NAIA Division I women’s basketball tournament ended with a thumping at the hands of defending champion Freed-Hardeman.

The Lions of Henderson, Tennessee, controlled the entire quarterfinal game and reached the semifinals for the second straight season. The Lions (31-2) improved to 3-0 all-time against the Warriors (22-12).

The sixth-seeded Warriors shot 3-of-13 in an 18-7 first quarter and never recovered. Though its shooting improved, the team from Lewiston, Idaho, lost the turnover battle 11 to 6 (7-1 in the first half).

“We played really good defense,” said Lions junior guard Jamie Crum. “They left the 3-point open, and we’re pretty good 3-point shooters.”

Freed-Hardeman, a No. 1 seed and the top-ranked team in NAIA DI, made up for a poor 2-point performance (9-of-31, or 29 percent) with a scorching showing from 3 (16-of-30, or 53.3 percent).

“I figured we could survive 10 3s. Halftime, they had nine,” said L-C State coach Brian Orr. “It wasn’t just 3s. They were NBA 3s. So it was really hard, but hey, you’ve gotta give them all the credit in the world.”

Freed-Hardeman junior Haylee Croom led all players with 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Crum had 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, senior Carrie Hatchel had 20 points and freshman Allie Crumpler chipped in 13.

The Lions are playing without senior guard Sandrea Sylman, who tore her left ACL in the American Midwest Conference tournament, said Crum. The AMC player of the year averaged 16.7 points per game (second on the team behind Croom) and led Freed-Hardeman in assists (3.1 per game).

For the No. 22 Warriors, Hannah Burland scored 13 points, fellow sophomore Peyton Souvenir had 12, junior Jamie Nielson had 11 and sophomore Abbie Johnson added eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

L-C State missed last year’s tournament after making it the previous four seasons, including a runner-up finish in 2017. The Warriors will graduate three seniors: forward/post Jossilyn Blackman, guard Cali Moscrip and forward/post Hailey Turner.

Our Lady of the Lake 94, Campbellsville 88

The Saints surrendered a 16-point lead but pulled ahead in the final minute to advance to the NAIA DI semifinals for the first time in school history.

“I’m very proud of my teammates, my coaches,” said OLLU junior Patience Okpe. “Everyone kept encouraging us. Being this far in this competition is a very huge accomplishment for us.”

No. 14-ranked and No. 3-seeded OLLU (from San Antonia, Texas) held 10-point leads at the end of the first quarter and at halftime. The second-ranked and top-seeded Tigers pulled within two in the third quarter, but a 14-0 run put the Saints ahead 73-57 with 7:44 left in the game.

Campbellsville (Kentucky) clawed back and forced an 85-85 tie with 44 seconds to go. OLLU scored the next four points, all on free throws, and held a decisive 89-85 lead with four seconds remaining.

Senior Madison Kaiser kept the Tigers breathing with a 3-pointer, but with 1.1 seconds left on the clock, the Saints were still in command. On the ensuing inbounds play, OLLU freshman Dezeree White threw a full-court pass that airmailed senior Mikki Flores and bounced out of bounds.

Campbellsville’s moment of hope was destroyed by a whistle. Flores and Kaiser both fell down as they chased White’s pass, and the referees called a foul on Kaiser. Like many calls in the game, Tigers coach Ginger High Colvin disagreed, and she slammed her clipboard in anger. The referees issued a technical foul as one of High Colvin’s assistants picked up shards of clipboard.

“I give a lot of credit to Our Lady of the Lake. I think they’re an outstanding team. I want to give a lot of credit to my team, too, for fighting through and making a game out of it,” High Colvin said. “We really felt like we had a shot at it, but sometimes, you can’t play eight people and have a shot at it.”

Campbellsville sophomore Savannah Gregory led all players with 23 points, made 10-of-16 field goals and grabbed nine rebounds. Junior Madison Faulkner added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers (30-3).

Okpe, a Nigeria native, scored 22 points (8-of-10) and dished out a game-high six assists, while junior Kasey Saldana scored 21 points and senior Destinee King added 18 points and 12 rebounds.

The Saints (26-6) will play No. 3-seeded Oklahoma City in the semifinals. 

Oklahoma City 76, Clarke 72

The newcomer nearly continued its remarkable run, but the powerhouse prevailed Saturday night.

The eighth-seeded Pride, playing in their first ever NAIA tournament, led 47-45 through three quarters and 65-63 with 3:15 left in the game. The third-seeded Stars went on a 9-1 run the next 3 ½ minutes to pull away.

OCU freshman Abby Selzer finished with a game-high 22 points (8-of-14 from the field) and a team-high six rebounds, while junior Brennyn Seagler added 19 points (5-of-11) and senior Michaela Kay added 13 (4-of-8).

Clarke freshman Tina Ubl had 19 points (6-of-15) and a game-high 12 rebounds, sophomore Makenna Haase added 16 points (5-of-8) and 10 rebounds and sophomore Morgan Pitz scored 15 points (5-of-15).

OCU (31-3) is making its 24th NAIA tournament trip. It has won nine national titles, including four of the last seven, and it is headed to the semifinals for the 15th time.

Despite the gaps in tourney success and coaches poll rankings, the No. 10 Stars treated unranked Clarke (23-12) like a juggernaut. After all, the Pride of Dubuque, Iowa, reached the quarterfinals with wins over top-seeded Columbia (ranked No. 3) and fourth-seeded Shawnee State (No. 14).

“That’s not a normal eight seed,” said Stars fourth-year coach Bo Overton. “They’re a very good, talented, veteran team. That’s a huge win for us.”

While the Pride might have looked like a veteran group, 11 of their 15 players are underclassmen, and they’ll graduate one player (Natasha Adames).

“This group, what they accomplished, I’m very proud of them,” said Clarke second-year coach Courtney Boyd. “The fact that we’re playing with a junior college team, essentially, is a really good thing, and we’re just looking forward now.”

Email Victor Flores at victor.flores@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @VictorFlores_BG

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