The fourth quarter proved to be the difference maker for the Southern Oregon women’s basketball team in its NAIA Division II National Championships opener in Sioux City, Iowa.
Two days later, needing some late-game magic once again, the Raiders weren’t able to repeat history.
After going punch for punch with No. 2 Dakota Wesleyan for 30 minutes, third-seeded Southern Oregon couldn’t complete its comeback bid and saw its 2017-18 season come to an end with a 76-61 loss in the second round of the NAIA Division II National Championships on Friday afternoon.
“We felt like we were doing what we wanted to do. We had an injury and a person foul out at the same position and that really hurt us, but we liked how our girls competed,” Southern Oregon head coach Alex Carlson said. “It’s kinda interesting, but a 16-point game was a four-point game when those two players went out. We had a bad shooting game, and that was our emphasis coming into the tournament is that we felt like if we hit our shots we were going to be a tough team to beat.”
As Southern Oregon did to the University of Antelope Valley two days earlier so did Dakota Wesleyan (29-6) to the Raiders as late morning turned to early afternoon at the Tyson Events Center despite the fact that the Tigers committed a whopping 36 turnovers in the game.
SOU, which finished second behind Eastern Oregon in the Cascade Collegiate Conference this season, ended the year with a 28-5 record.
Four of those losses — three of which were against EOU — came to teams ranked in the top 7 nationally.
“Obviously, it’s one of those things where it’s a good thing that our expectations are to be in the final four,” Carlson said. “It’s our third year in a row where we had one of the best seasons ever at SOU and we had a bunch of great kids playing for us.”
While the game was close until the fourth quarter, it only featured two lead changes.
Even though SOU scored 22 points off turnovers and outscored DWU 40-16 in the paint, the Raiders’ largest lead of the day was all of one point.
That meant that the Raiders were having to fight from behind for most of the game.
Southern Oregon cut Dakota Wesleyan’s lead to one point on three separate occasions in the third quarter when senior guard Remi Mejia scored 10 of her team-high 20 points within a five-minute span.
It was shades of what the former South Medford High standout did in the Raiders’ opening-round win when she shook off a tough start and was absolutely on fire in the second half.
However, just when the Raiders would cut it to one possession, the Tigers had an answer.
“That’s obviously a credit to them and they had a couple seniors step up and make some big shots for them,” Carlson said. “We competed like crazy, and at this time it’s just small errors that make the difference between wins and losses.”
The Raiders entered the fourth quarter trailing by six points, 55-49, but could only get within as close as four down the stretch.
Dakota Wesleyan broke it open in the final four minutes, as Kynedi Cheeseman — who scored a game-high 22 points — gave the Tigers their first double-digit lead of the game with a pair of free throws.
For the game, the Tigers hit nearly half of their 3-point attempts, going 8-for-17.
The Raiders, however, made just four of their 19 shots from behind the arc (21.1 percent), one of their lowest totals and percentages of the season.
“For the most part, we liked where the pace of the game was at,” said Carlson. “We thought the pace of the game was good for us and it’s one of those things where when there’s seven minutes left there’s a possession where we could go up. They made the shots and credit them for making plays.”
Mejia, one of four seniors playing in her final collegiate game, and junior forward Ariel Augustine (10 points) were the only two Raiders to finish in double figures.
Mejia finished with the fifth-highest single-season point total in school history with 590,
SOU senior point guard Toria Bradford, the lone starter remaining from the Raiders’ run to the national title game in 2016, finished with eight points and three assists before fouling out with 1:47 to go.
Bradford also leaves her name all over the SOU record book, finishing in the No. 5 spot in career steals (247) and ninth in assists (330).
“The biggest thing I want to put across is that we had four outstanding seniors. We had four great seniors that are good people who are going to do good things in their life,” Carlson said. “We’re just disappointed that we’re not going to have these seniors in our program. Nine of our players were in their first year with the program this year and we feel good about where the program is at.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.