JOPLIN, Mo. — The defending champions are set to defend, reaching their fourth straight Championship appearance, in underdog fashion, against #4 Arlington Baptist, on Saturday, at 7:00 p.m.
Maranatha Baptist University will make its fourth straight NCCAA Women’s Division II National Basketball Championship game appearance and seek a second straight title Saturday following Friday’s 57-45 semifinal victory over Pensacola Christian College at the Ozark Christian College Multipurpose Building.
Arlington stunned #1 Kentucky Christian after launching a last-second three-pointer, on a stolen inbounds pass, with just over a second on the clock.
The Crusaders (13-14) defeated Manhattan (KS) Christian College 56-53 for the 2013 title, and are poised for another shot, this time with a much younger, but scrappy squad.
Maranatha shot out of the gates with a 13-6 lead, and were beneficiaries of strong shooting from beyond the arc, after a slow start, and masterful performance from Laci Peterson, a 6-foot-1 senior center and statistics monster, who once again flirted with a triple-double scoring 16 points, nine rebounds, and 10 blocked shots while dishing out four assists.
The team led by as many as 23 points in the first half, and carried a 31-15 lead at halftime, but Pensacola’s shooting drought would not last forever, as the Crusaders’ lead was slowly cut to nine points, with just over five minutes remaining.
Maranatha’s defense held firm, despite a stretch of turnovers by each team, holding the #6 seed scoreless for the next four minutes. By then it was too late, as a layup by senior forward Erin Steuerwald (Whitewater, WI) hit a layup for the team’s 13th win of the season.
Maranatha, a year removed from losing all but one starter, Peterson, due to graduation, could not have imagined this story book plot, and combined with the fact that the top three seeds will not make an appearance in the championship, Maranatha hopes to bring home their third title in school history.
Sophomore forward Stacy Reinke scored 13 points, senior guard Erin Steuerwald had 12 points and 10 rebounds, freshman guard Courtney Dunn added eight points with 11 rebounds.
The Eagles (19-9) were led by senior guard Karen Kendall’s 11 points, freshman guard Alyssa Loudermilk and sophomore forward Hannah Shipp added eight each.