By Murray Evans
WINONA LAKE, Ind. (March 16, 2013) – As good of defense as Oklahoma Christian played on Saturday afternoon – and it was mostly terrific – it wasn’t enough because the Lady Eagles struggled mightily on offense against Union (Tenn.).
OC shot just 28.3 percent from the field and lost 64-53 to Union in the third-place game of the National Christian College Athletic Association Championship tournament at Orthopaedic Capital Center.
The loss ended a turnaround season for OC, which finished 20-13 one year after posting a 9-20 record. Led by senior center Katy O’Steen, the Lady Eagles won the NCCAA Central Region title last week – beating eventual NCCAA champion Southern Nazarene – before running out of gas at the national tournament.
The Lady Eagles couldn’t battle their way back from a 24-point second-half deficit in the semifinals against California Baptist on Thursday and couldn’t overcome a 17½-minute stretch against Union (22-9) during which they managed only one field goal.
“We couldn’t score,” OC coach Stephanie Findley said. “They kept us from getting the ball inside and took us out of our game. We couldn’t hit any threes. That’s what will hurt you. You’re not going to be able to win if you can’t shot better than 28 percent.”
Union averaged about 10 3-pointers a game this season, but the Bulldogs managed only eight (in 23 attempts) on Saturday as OC focused its defense on the perimeter. Unfortunately for OC, that opened up the inside for forward Shelby Ashcraft, who led Union with 17 points.
Except for one 90-second stretch of the second half when the Bulldogs nailed three straight 3-pointers, Findley was mostly pleased with her team’s defensive effort.
“We did all right on defense,” Findley said. “I’m real pleased that we did guard the arc the way we against Union after not guarding it very well against Cal Baptist.”
OC led only once, at 16-15 after a 3-pointer by Sydney Hill with 8:29 left in the first half. Amber Reiches, who went 4-of-4 from the field, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc, answered with a 3-pointer at the 8:06 mark to start a 12-2 run by the Bulldogs.
After Hill’s basket, OC’s next field goal was a banked 3-pointer by Daisha Gonzaque at the 1:19 mark. The Lady Eagles didn’t score another basket until the 11:03 mark of the second half, also by Gonzaque.
“That’s kind of been the story for us all year,” Findley said. “We haven’t been a great-shooting team. We just discussed the fact that we want to be that team next year, that other teams have to guard on the arc and they have to guard you inside and they have to guard you everywhere. We’ve got to do a better job of knocking down the perimeter shot.”
OC was within 39-32 after two free throws by O’Steen with 9:13 left, but those three straight treys – one by Rechis, followed by a pair by Astrid Huttemann – made it 48-32. The Lady Eagles came no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
Roz Hamilton led OC with 15 points and Krista Stevens scored 11. For Union, Amy Philamlee scored 15 points – going 10-of-12 from the free-throw line – while Rechis scored 11 and Huttemann had 10.
Union moved to 7-1 all-time against the Lady Eagles.
The loss marked the last game for two OC seniors, O’Steen and Madison Middle. O’Steen, who was named to the all-tournament team, struggled with the rest of her teammates, finishing 1-of-9 from the field and scoring seven points. She finished her career with 1,426 points, 11th on OC’s all-time scoring list.
“It’s been a very good season as far as the girls being together as a team,” Findley said. “That’s a tribute to Katy and Madison and their positive leadership. They are two of the hardest-working girls. They are two of the most positive personalities and this team kind of followed that.
“It was a unified team all year. They had a good time. They played hard. I think that paid off at the end of the year when we went on our little run and started playing well. Obviously, we peaked too soon, in the regional tournament instead of this tournament, but they played very well until these last couple of games.”