Crusaders Complete Cinderella Run, Grab Third Title

photoJOPLIN, Mo. — They say, “if the shoe fits, put it on.” The shoe is fitting quite nicely for the Cinderella Crusaders, with an improbable run that now includes back-to-back titles.

The No. 7-seed didn’t dishearten, but rather fueled the reigning National Champions, as Maranatha earned its second straight and third overall NCCAA Women’s Division II National Basketball Championship with a 77-69 victory over Arlington Baptist College Saturday night at the Ozark Christian College Multipurpose Building.

Tournament MVP Laci Peterson, a 6-foot-1 senior center, recorded a quadruple-double with 16 points, 15 rebounds, 13 blocks and 10 assists. Her 10th assist with 2:01 left in the game gave the Crusaders a 10-point lead, 68-58.

Peterson recorded one triple-double this season, but never a quadruple double, and was later named to the All-Tournament Team.

“The only number I cared about was 13, 10 players, two coaches and Jesus, it was all 13 of us working together that made this possible,” Peterson said. “I came close to a triple-double the other night when I was in double figures in points, rebounds and had nine assists, but I was little surprised they (Arlington) kept coming into the lane and challenging me.

“But that was my job, to defend the paint and rebound. The assists make me very proud because coach is always telling me I need to score more, but enjoy passing the ball.”

Peterson scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half as the Crusaders erased a 15-point first half deficit to trail only 35-33 at halftime and build a lead as large as 15 with under a minute left in the game.

The motto, “it’s not how you start, but how you finish,” could not have been more true, after a turnover-plagued first half, aided by a pesky full-court press by Arlington’s defense. Maranatha slowly crept back into contention though, and used a dominating team defensive effort.

Head coach Clayton Morrison, guiding his team to the championship crown, posted a 14-14 record. Senior guard Erin Steuerwald capped her career, and breakout season with 19 points, sophomore forward Stacy Reinke added 18 points and 10 rebounds and freshman guard Courtney Dunn had 13 for the Crusaders.

Maranatha Baptist defeated Bible Baptist 67-52 in Oklahoma City for the 1999 national title. Last year in Circleville, Ohio, the Crusaders defeated Manhattan, Kan., Christian College 56-53.