Eagles Top Tech, Move To Regional Championship Game

Taylor Woods, left, Alyssa Miller (12) and the Eagles converge on Sam Hoyt.
Taylor Woods, left, Alyssa Miller (12) and the Eagles converge on Sam Hoyt.

            At least on the Ohio Turnpike there are mile markers so a driver knows how far he or she has to go before the gas tank can be replenished.

            Women's basketball teams that visit Kates Gymnasium aren't as fortunate and they pay a heavy toll because it.

            The latest women's basketball team to suffer through that energy-guzzling experience was Michigan Tech, which lost to second-ranked Ashland, 67-54 in the semifinals of NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Tournament Saturday night (Mar. 16) at Kates Gymnasium.

            "We stayed close with them in the first half," said Michigan Tech coach Kim Cameron. "We did that in the GLIAC Tournament. In the second half, we ran out of gas."

            AU (33-1) will play the sixth seed in the tournament, Wayne State, Monday (Mar. 18) at 7 p.m., at Kates Gymnasium. WSU defeated the seventh seed, Wisconsin-Parkside, 70-60 on Saturday.  Ashland and Wayne State have played once this season. That was on Dec. 5 in Detroit and the Eagles won, 77-58.

            This is AU's second consecutive trip to the regional championship game. Ashland is 5-0 at home in NCAA postseason play. The Eagles have a 42-game home winning streak.

            Tech played the Eagles last week in the semifinals of the GLIAC Tournament and lost, 81-68. Last Saturday, the Huskies (21-9) trailed by just 41-38 at halftime. In this NCAA postseason game, Ashland had a 30-28 lead after 20 minutes. In the second half, the Eagles outscored the Huskies, 37-26. They were 12-of-14 at the free throw line (85.7 percent) after the intermission and connected on 50 percent (11-of-22) of their second half field goal tries.

            In last week's AU-Michigan Tech game, senior guard-forward Kari Daugherty (Fresno, Ohio/Dayton) had 33 points and 16 rebounds and senior forward Daiva Gerbec (Dublin, Ohio/Bishop Watterson) scored 17 points and secured eight rebounds. In this game, Daugherty had 32 points and 13 rebounds and Gerbec had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

            "You think you can take something away and she's just an incredible player," said Cameron, of trying to find a way to defend Daugherty. "I think we did better on Gerbec. Then Miller (Alyssa) steps up and hits a big shot. Taylor Woods seems to hit a big three. That's what a great team does."

            This was a back-and-forth, tug-of-war in the first half. Daugherty was the difference for the Eagles. She had 14 points and five rebounds at the break. Once again, when the Eagles needed her most, she was able to deliver. The ball was in her hands for much of the first half. That played a part in Ashland having only two turnovers after 20 minutes.

            "I guess, honestly, before the game I prayed for a lot of confidence," replied Daugherty, when asked about her ability to rise to the occasion in key games. "It's my last go at it. I want to win a national championship. Today was a big hurdle."

            Thanks to Daugherty and Gerbec, AU led in points in the paint, 32-12. Ashland also had a 17-3 edge in points off of turnovers.

            "They had trouble defending Daiva and Kari inside and our guards did a great job getting them the ball," said AU head coach Sue Ramsey. "I thought Taylor did a great job. We started with Alyssa at the point and then used Taylor at the point. They both did a great job defending one of the best guards (Sam Hoyt) I've ever seen in the conference. To be able to hold a Michigan Tech team to 54 points is a great team defensive performance."

            With 10:50 left in the game, Tech's Paige Albi hit a three-pointer to bring the Huskies to within 48-45. The Eagles scored the game's next eight points to go ahead, 56-45 with 7:14 remaining. All eight points were scored by Daugherty. After that surge, Tech was running on empty.

            The Huskies attacked AU with senior guards Emma Veach (12 points) and Hoyt (10 points, seven assists). When those two can control a game, Tech is highly dangerous. But this MTU team is young inside and that's a bad matchup against Daugherty and Gerbec. The Huskies got a huge assist from forward Jillian Ritchie (12 points), but when she fouled out with 3:49 left, Tech's chances to advance were dealt a huge blow.

            "We got exposed today in not being able to handle the big game it was," said Cameron of how MTU's fortunes changed when she had to insert younger players into crucial roles in the second half. "I thought our seniors were awesome."

            AU used Miller and Woods to shadow Hoyt. That duo did a remarkable job – the MTU senior was 4-of-10 from the floor and never got into a streak where she dominated the action. Normally, Miller handles the bulk of the work defensively. Woods got into the act this time and played well.

            "I grew up a little bit today," said Woods, who noted that Miller has been her role model for the last two seasons.

            Woods also scored 14 points. She was 5-of-8 from the floor, 2-of-3 from three-point range.

            Every starter in the AU lineup logged at least 34 minutes. Redshirt sophomore guard Chelsea Laporte (Miamisburg, Ohio) and sophomore forward Melanie Poorman (Zanesville, Ohio/Marysville) played six minutes apiece. That might seem trivial, but Ramsey was quick to point out how important those minutes were to AU's cause.

            "We've talked all year about building depth," Ramsey said. "There are a lot of 39's, but a six-minute contribution is huge. We got that from Chelsea and Mel today."

            This is AU's fourth trip to the NCAA playoffs. This is the second time Wayne State has reached the NCAA postseason and Monday is the school's first trip to the regional championship game. The winner of the game advances to the Elite Eight in San Antonio.