Sterling drops second round game to defending NAIA Division II national champions Northwestern College
After scoring 93 points in their opener at the NAIA Division II national tournament the Sterling College Lady Warriors struggled offensively in their second round game versus Northwestern College (IA) and had no answer for NWC guards Becca Hurley (24 points) and Kami Kuhlmann (22 points) who combined for 64% of the Red Raiders 72 points in the contest. The victory was Northwestern’s seventh straight victory at the NAIA Division II national tournament.
It took Sterling almost three minutes to score its first points of the contest which came on an inside bucket by senior Ashley Kraft. Kraft led Sterling in scoring with 20 points and she was the only Lady Warrior to reach double figures. Britany Gasper added 8 points and Jacci Tinkel 7 points to round-out SC’s top three offensive performers.
Sterling managed to stay in the game early with a strong defensive effort, holding the Red Raiders to just five points during the opening five minutes of the game. But during the next 5:30, Northwestern found its offensive rhythm and went on a 16-7 run to extend its lead to 21-9.
But just when it appeared Northwestern was ready to run away with the contest, Sterling fought back to go on a 9-3 run and cut the Red Raider advantage to 24-18 with just over five minutes remaining in the opening frame.
The final minutes of the first half proved to be critical however, as Northwestern hit three 3-point baskets as part of a key 11-7 run to extend its lead to 35-25 at the intermission.
The Lady Warriors shot a disappointing 35% from the floor in the first half while NWC shot an impressive 50% from the field which included a strong 5 of 10 endeavor from behind the three point line. Sterling was led in scoring during the first half by Kraft with 11 points. Northwestern was led by Kuhlmann with 13 while Hurley added 12. Sterling forced 11 Red Raider turnovers in the opening half but committed 10 to neutralize a positive defensive effort.
In the second half, Northwestern again took momentum early as a 10-4 run in the opening five minutes led to a sixteen point (45-29) Red Raider lead.
During the next six minutes both team played fairly even and with nine minutes remaining in the contest Northwestern had extended its lead to 17 points (52-35).
Sterling made one more final run at Northwestern when the Lady Warriors went on an impressive 10-4 spurt to close the Red Raider lead to 11 points (56-45) with six minutes remaining in the contest. But Sterling would get no closer as Northwestern finished with a 16-10 run to complete a decisive 72-55 victory.
The Lady Warriors again struggled offensively in the second half, shooting just 27% from the floor which included a dismal 1 of 11 effort (9%) from behind the three-point line. Sterling gained a narrow advantage on the boards grabbing 39 rebounds in the game. SC also took four more shots from the floor than Northwestern and six more free-throws but the Lady Warriors could not capitalize on those benefits as cold shooting plagued the team throughout the evening.
The loss dropped Sterling’s overall record to 27-6 this season and was the final game for seniors Ashley Kraft, Jacci Tinkel, Hillary Stucky, Ashley Gasper, Jill Boeckman and Erin Thiessen.
This was Sterling’s 11th appearance in the “Sweet Sixteen” at the NAIA Division II national tournament.
By Shawn Reed, Sterling College - Picture by Melissa Yarrow, Sterling College Student