The Running With the Bulls is an annual event. For the health of the hearts in Ashland, it's a good thing that the Running With the Hawks only happens every 10 years or so.
Saturday night (Mar. 10) at Kates Gymnasium in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Women's Basketball Tournament, the top-seeded Eagles found themselves engaged with a team willing to run with them. That's not happened a lot recently, but the Quincy Hawks, the fifth seed in this tournament and the highest scoring team in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, had no problem going up and down the floor with the Eagles.
For that reason, Ashland found itself in a game for a full 40 minutes. AU led, 33-26 at halftime and with 17:47 to go in the game, had a 14-point advantage, 43-29. The Hawks (22-8) battled back to tie the game, 68-68 with 1:44 left. Ashland took the lead for keeps, 69-68 when sophomore guard Alyssa Miller (Zanesville, Ohio/Tri-Valley) hit a free throw with 1:19 remaining. A pair of free throws by junior forward Kari Daugherty (Fresno, Ohio/Dayton) put AU in front, 71-68 with six seconds to go.
At that point, Quincy got the ball in-bounds and Ashland fouled immediately to prevent the Hawks from lofting a three-pointer. Quincy scoring machine Ali Schwagmeyer made one of two free throws with 4.3 seconds left to bring the Hawks to within 71-69. Schawmeyer's miss at the line came on the second half of a one-and-one. The ball rolled out of bounds with 1.5 seconds left and although the Hawks got the ball in-bounds one more time, they couldn't get a shot off before the final horn.
The 71-69 win was Ashland's 30th straight and gives AU a 30-1 record. The second-ranked Eagles will now play in the Sweet 16 on Monday night (Mar. 12, 7 p.m.) at Kates Gymnasium, hosting the third seed in this tournament, Wisconsin-Parkside. In Saturday's first game, the 17th-ranked Rangers defeated second-seeded Ferris State, 71-57. (Tickets for Monday's game go on sale on Monday morning at 9. Fans are encouraged to wear purple as this has been declared a "Purple Out," at Kates Gymnasium).
This was AU's 22nd straight win at home dating back to last season. This 30-game overall winning streak ties the school record for any team, equaling the mark of the 30-game win skein of the 1998 softball team.
"It's an honor and privilege to coach these young ladies," said AU head coach Sue Ramsey. "It was a great NCAA Tournament game if you didn't care who won. They laid it on the line, we laid it on the line and at the end someone had to be ahead. I'm thankful it was the Eagles."
From start to finish, this game tested the nerves of players, coaches and fans. Quincy led, 10-3 with 16:11 to go in the first half and had a 13-5 lead with 15:03 to go in the half. Ashland quickly regrouped and had a 25-20 lead with four minutes to go until halftime. In that early spurt, Schwagmeyer, a muscular 5-11 senior forward, pumped in three, three-pointers. She would finish the game with 17 points. After those three early triples, she had just one triple the rest of the way.
Two talents allowed the Hawks to climb back into this game. First, they went 11-of-29 from three-point range (37.9 percent). In the second half, Quincy was 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) from behind the arc. That's exceptional shooting against an Ashland team that's allowing teams to shoot just 28.3 percent from the three-point range. Guard Kassidy Shuman had three, second-half triples and finished with a team-high 20 points. Quincy outrebounded AU, 41-40 and got 13 offensive rebounds. This was the first time the Eagles had been out-rebounded since Jan. 12, when they lost the battle of the boards at Tiffin, 41-40. That's a string of 16 games.
"I'm very proud of the way we responded," said Quincy head coach Jeni Garber. "We could have folded but we kept battling against a great team on their home court. We should be proud and walk out of her with our heads held high."
"They hit some tough threes, especially a couple of girls we didn't think would do that," explained Daugherty. "Obviously we didn't make the adjustments quick enough."
The Hawks did an excellent job of holding AU senior guard Jena Stutzman (Berlin, Ohio/Kent State) in check, yet they could do nothing with Daugherty. Stutzman's been on a roll lately, but the Hawks held her to nine points and she made just 4-of-14 field goal tries. Daugherty had 28 points, 22 rebounds, five assists and two steals. That rebound total is one shy of the NCAA Division II tournament single-game record. Daugherty had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the second half. This was her 23rd double-double of the season and her 13th straight
"28 points and 22 boards, that's not too bad," said Schwagmeyer, who was matched against Daugherty for part of the evening. "I'll give it to her, she's a very good player. It's hard to defend her."
"I thought Kari got a lot of good looks," said Miller. "If we could get her the ball she could go to work."
In addition to Daugherty, the Eagles received 11 points apiece from Miller and sophomore guard-forward Ashley Dorner (Bellville, Ohio/Clear Fork). Junior forward Beth Mantkowski (Fairlawn, Ohio/Copley) came off the bench and provided six points and three rebounds in 17 minutes.
"We wanted to try and keep the ball out of her (Stutzman's) hands," said Garber. "She's a playmaker and we wanted to try and make someone else step up. They had that. We wanted to force the ball into someone else's hands. They had other people step up. That's what good teams do."
At this point, the Eagles qualify as a great team. This is Ashland's first trip to the Sweet 16. Their winning streak is the longest in the country, NCAA Division II, men or women. The Eagles are one step away from San Antonio and the NCAA Elite Eight.
"It's just remarkable," gushed Ramsey. "It's a different level than I've ever experienced."