Cami Koehn’s go-ahead 3-pointer propelled the Vikings to a 68-64 win over Southwestern Oklahoma State in the NCAA Central Region semifinals. Augustana ties a school record for most wins in a season with their record improving to 26-6. The Bulldogs’ season ends with a 24-7 record.
SWOSU’s Saraya Oyler hit a runner in the paint to put the Bulldogs up one point, 64-63 with 42 seconds left on the clock. The obviously play seemed to get it to the All-America senior in Alex Feeney, and that’s what the Vikings did. But SWOSU coach Kelsi Musick countered it by throwing several defenders at the post player.
That’s where Koehn found an open spot on the court – the whole right side of the court was vacated with the ball in Feeney’s hand on the left block – and she was ready for the shot of a lifetime.
Feeney found the sharpshooter Koehn who had already hit a big three earlier in the contest and the senior guard sank the 3-pointer. Feeney finished with just six points but one crucial assist. With Augustana up three and 18 seconds on the clock, Musick took a timeout to gather her players for a chance to tie or win the game.
Mariah Oyler’s three from the left corner hit the back iron as the Vikings bench held their breath. Oyler’s miss by none other than Koehn who was immediately fouled. The Vikings had been in the double bonus for what seemed like the final 10 minutes of the game with the physicality of the game, and now Koehn had a chance to ice the game at the foul line.
Koehn was shooting 74 percent on the season entering those two shots and it looked as if she had never missed a free throw in her life with confidence oozing from her follow-through - Koehn finished with eight points.
The Vikings lead was now insurmountable, barring any freak happenings. Sarah Mendoza’s three-quarter court heave fell short and the Vikings would hold on to win 68-64, winning after trailing at halftime for the first time all year.
Preceding Oyler’s layup and Koehn’s game-clinching three, Faith Tinklenberg stepped up by hitting a three from the left wing after the previous two Viking possessions ended in offensive fouls. Tinklenberg finished with a game-high 16 points and four rebounds, namely three on the offensive glass which produced second chance opportunities.
The game featured 47 combined fouls with many of them being highly disputed by the fans and coaches alike. Both benches received warnings; not coincidentally when the opponent was on a big scoring run. Both teams’ physical play gave hints of what was at stake and the intensity of Dave Krauth and Musick reaffirmed the importance of the opportunity at hand.
For the Vikings, it is the second time in program history that they will have advanced to the regional finals and now it is their second consecutive year with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
The game didn’t feature a start like the Vikings had scripted, but the end couldn’t have turned out better for the No. 6 seed.
Augustana erased an early deficit the Bulldogs built with intense defensive pressure. Over a five-minute stretch the Vikings forced eight SWOSU turnovers and a 0-2 performance from the field.
Feeney and Andrea Whitney each banked in layups before Emily Schulte hit one of two free throws. Riley Nordgaard corralled an errant pass from Feeney an laid it in to bring the Vikings within one point, down 12-11.
Lydia Nelson hit a turnaround jumper from 12 feet out to give the Vikings their first lead since the opening possession of the game. Augustana’s lead wouldn’t hold, though as the Bulldogs would use the lopsided first-half foul count to get to the line.
Six straight free throws were capped off by a Kylie Boggess layup for an 8-0 Southwestern Oklahoma State run. Schulte hit two free throws to stop the run, but the Bulldogs reeled off four more quick ones to take a 26-18 lead.
Shaunteva Ashley crossed her defender up and hit a nice 17-footer. Schulte was then fouled on a three-point attempt and hit all three foul shots, cutting the SWOSU lead to three points. Boggess hit a layup and the first of two free throws to close out the half with the Bulldogs ahead 58-57.
The Vikings forced 14 turnovers and converted those into 13 points, but only shot 22.6 percent from the field. Southwestern Oklahoma State got into the paint for over half of their points which led to 37.5 percent shooting in the first stanza.
The Vikings came out firing in the first minutes of the second half, looking like the Augustana squad that once boasted a No. 5 ranking in the nation. A 16-2 run in the opening four minutes of the half turned the tides of the contest and it looked like the Vikings would run away with the game like they have all season – despite six losses, the Vikings had outscored their opponents by 16.8 points per game.
The run was necessary for the Vikings to come back I the game, but the Bulldogs had already upset the No. 2 seed and had minds of staying in Topeka for a few more nights. After the Vikings held their lead for another six minutes, the Great American Conference members were ready for the stretch run.
Taryn Sayama, coming off the bench for Mendoza who battled foul trouble all game, drilled a three and followed that with a layup and Augustana was up by four. A SWOSU free throw preceded the game-tying three by Natalia Gibson and the Vikings appeared to have blown another lead like what happened in four of their six losses.
Augustana would not let that happen. Faith Tinklenberg hit a layup but was answered by Samaya’s free throws to tie the game at 49-49. Schulte then converted a layup giving the Vikings the lead back. But after Emily Bose’s free throws, Augustana appeared to have a somewhat safe three-point lead.
Michelle Fisher was held in check all game as the Vikings’ fresh opponent had gone off for 24 points as the Viking coaching staff intently watched from the stands last night. But Fisher found an opening and Oyler hit her on the left wing where she drilled a game-tying three.
Tinklenberg’s answer to Fisher was an offensive rebound she caught on the run and laid it in the basket after taking a shoulder to the chest. That bucket put the Vikings up by two, but Mendoza hit a three and the Bulldogs hit another layup to make it a three-point game, 58-55.
Ashley cut the lead to three points with a layup, but Fisher found her way to the line and sank both to preserve the SWOSU lead, 60-57. Tinklennerg hit another tough layup and the free throw to tie the game at 60-60.
The Vikings took a timeout to set up a defense, but Mendoza found her way into the lane and scored the 27th and 28th points in the paint to put the Vikings up by two and setting up Tinklenberg to give the Vikings a winning shot with her 3-pointer.
The Vikings now advance to the NCAA Central Region Tournament Championship where they will face the winner of No. 4 seed Minnesota State and No. 8 seed Emporia State at 7 p.m. on Monday.
Courtesy: Eric Zahn, Assistant Sports Information Director, Augustana College
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