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Lady Eagles climb the Hill, rally to beat Cedarville in NCCAA 1st round

OC freshman guard Sydney Hill scored 22 of her 24 points after halftime to lead the Lady Eagles past Cedarville in the first round of the NCCAA Championship.
OC freshman guard Sydney Hill scored 22 of her 24 points after halftime to lead the Lady Eagles past Cedarville in the first round of the NCCAA Championship.

By Murray Evans
WINONA LAKE, Ind. (March 13, 2013) – Those who watched Oklahoma Christian freshman guard Sydney Hill slice and dice Heartland Conference champion Texas-Permian Basin in the regular-season finale have a sense of what happened to Cedarville (Ohio) on Wednesday morning.

After a two-point first half, Hill poured in 22 after halftime as sixth-seeded OC rallied from a 13-point deficit to down third-seeded Cedarville 78-74 in the first round of the National Christian College Athletic Association Championship at the Orthopaedic Capital Center.

Logan McKee blocked a potential tying shot for Cedarville in the final moments as OC (20-11) extended its winning streak to six games and advanced to a national semifinal for the first time in the program’s history. OC previously reached the NAIA quarterfinals in 1986, 2003 and 2010. This is OC’s first appearance in the NCCAA tournament.

The Lady Eagles will face second-seeded California Baptist for the first time ever at 7:45 p.m. Central time on Thursday.

“We’re going to have to play better tomorrow to move on,” said OC coach Stephanie Findley said, who now has recorded the 16th 20-win season of her career. “We’re just glad to survive. We’ve had a lot of those (close) games this year, so maybe that paid off, when we had to make free throws at the end and come back from behind. We’re pretty confident to be able to play that way.

“It feels good to make the semifinals. There are a lot of NAIA teams that did well that are here, so it’s the same level of competition.”

Hill was far from the only standout for the Lady Eagles against Cedarville (18-10). McKee kept OC afloat in the first half and finished 5-of-10 from 3-point range en route to a 17-point performance.

Roz Hamilton recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Katy O’Steen – who had been the focus of the Yellow Jackets’ defense – overcame shooting troubles to finish with 12 points. Freshman Aisha Martin took only two shots, but both were 3-pointers that fueled OC’s second-half rally.

“Sydney stepped up,” Findley said. “The first half was Logan, the second half was Sydney. It’s somebody new every night. That’s what you’ve got to have. They were so intent on stopping our inside game, they were sagging in there really bad and the off-side shot was open once we swung the ball around.

“Logan was knocking it down the first half. They were trying to guard Sydney with a big girl in the second half, so we just started letting her take it to the hole and it paid off.”

The Lady Eagles needed all that firepower to hold off a hot-shooting Cedarville team. Raegan Ryan went 5-of-6 from 3-point range and poured in 23 points, and her backcourt mate, Kayla Jenerette, hit 4-of-6 from behind the arc and scored 18 points. Every time OC rallied during the game’s first 34 minutes, one of them hit a big shot to extend Cedarville’s lead.

Cedarville, which was the NCCAA runner-up last season, shot 45.2 percent from the field (28 of 62) and 47.4 percent from 3-point range (9 of 19).

“Cedarville is a very good shooting team,” Findley said. “Those two guards are so good and that always gives us problems defending the arc.

“The second half the girls stepped up. We had to reiterate the game plan at halftime. We just weren’t following it defensively. We were a step slow and we were thinking slow and not reacting like we should half. At halftime we kind of went over things again and we did a better job of defending in the second half and rebounding.”

OC didn’t record its first field goal until McKee hit a 3-pointer with 12:23 left in the first half, allowing Cedarville to take a 12-2 lead. The Lady Eagles pulled within 21-18 at the 6:54 mark on McKee’s fourth 3-pointer, but Cedarville wasn’t fazed and led 40-30 at halftime.

The Yellow Jackets’ lead grew to 45-32 with 17:34 left after a 3-pointer by Jenerette. Then Hill took over for the Lady Eagles.

Hill, who had 25 of her 29 points against UTPB after halftime to lift OC to the win, started driving to the basket against Cedarville, hitting driving layups and rolling in short jumpers. That forced the Yellow Jackets to contend with her and freed up O’Steen and Hamilton underneath.

“They really packed it in the middle,” Hill said. “Every time we’d get it to them, they’d double them. That would leave our shooters open. Coach said, ‘We don’t have to run anything. Just attack and if you don’t have anything, just pull up and go again.’

“In games like this, I don’t really remember much. It just kind of happens. I’m very blessed because of that.”

Hill gave OC its first lead, hitting two free throws with 6:45 left to make it 65-63. Ryan’s 3-pointer and a basket by Deborah Chandler put Cedarville back up 68-65 with 5:59 left, but the Yellow Jackets didn’t score again until the 2:02 mark.

By that time, OC had reeled off seven straight points and led 72-68. Down 72-70, Cedarville had a chance to tie, but Jenerette, an 84 percent free-throw shooter, missed a pair and Hill hit a runner with 43.6 seconds left to restore OC’s lead to four points.

McKee went 2-of-4 from the line in the final 30.2 seconds and OC led 76-74 with 14.9 seconds left. Cedarville had a chance to tie as Jenerette drove into the lane for a layup in the final seconds. McKee blocked the shot and Hamilton grabbed the loose ball and was fouled. Hamilton made two free throws with 1.4 seconds left to seal the win.

O’Steen increased her career point total to 1,388 points, moving her past Lindsay Wilson (1999-2002) into the No. 14 spot on the Lady Eagles’ career scoring list. O’Steen is 14 points shy of tying Rachel Martin (2004-2007) for 13th on the list.