CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio – Seniors Hallie Sheley, Torey DeLozier, Autumn Peotter and Kristin Morrison endured four years of runnerup, and third place-finishes, but can now add NCCAAII National Champions to their resume after defeating a tough Manhattan squad, 56-53 on Saturday evening.
DeLozier, in a post-game interview stated, “It’s unreal, it’s a dream. We’ve come so far and bonded as a group this year and it leaves something for those who come behind us.”
DeLozier’s free-throw shooting down the stretch was the deciding factor for the 2013 National Champs.
Maranatha came into the game averaging 85 points against North Central and Trinity Baptist, but the defense set the tone in the opening minutes with its aggressive play, giving Maranatha a slim margin.
The team found breathing room at 17-11 on a Peotter three, but what would become the storyline for the entire game, a pesky Manhattan squad clawed their way to within one.
Maranatha carried a 31-26 lead at halftime; with junior center Laci Peterson (Chillicothe, Ill.) increasing it to 37-30 on a bank shot after the team won a jump-ball possession.
The lead didn’t last long with a 20-10 run by Manhattan that gave the Crusaders from Kansas a 50-47 advantage. Maranatha tied the game at 50-50 moments later, setting up a dog-fight to the finish-line.
After several possessions of scoreless play, freshman Stacy Reinke (Clintonville, Ohio) nailed a three and DeLozier made a pair of free-throws for a crucial 55-50 lead.
In a matter of seconds though, Manhattan cut it back to two with under a minute remaining in the game.
Maranatha missed a scoring opportunity on its next possession, and with the shot, and game clock even, Manhattan owned the last possession. The #2 seed in the tournament ran the clock down to less than ten seconds before DeLozier anticipated and picked off a pass with eight seconds remaining.
She was fouled immediately and went to the line where she nailed a clutch free-throw. Manhattan’s missed a long-shot three, sealing Coach of the Year, Clayton Morrison’s second National Championship.
Morrison last won the championship in 1999.
DeLozier finished the night 8-10 from the line, and had 16 points, four rebounds and four steals. The 5-11 forward, along with Peterson and Peotter were named to the All-Tournament Team, with Peotter garnering Tournament MVP honors.