The Seward County Lady Saints played a total of 80 minutes of basketball this weekend in the Pizza Hut Classic. 79 minutes and 53 seconds of those 80 minutes weren’t enough to settle anything but 4.9 seconds in their first game and 1.5 seconds in their second game were enough to write a storybook as they squeaked out a pair of wins against perennial national powers in the Pizza Hut Classic to hit the Holiday Break at 9-3 overall.
Seward’s first test was a tall one as Friday night they took on 9-0 Northeastern Junior College, however NJC is a team that the Lady Saints had handled well over the past decade, so well in fact that they were unbeaten in their last nine tries against the Plainswomen. Northeastern came out of the blocks ready to turn that history around as they put together an 11-3 lead before Seward knew what hit them. The Lady Saints would slowly chip away though and after three consecutive old fashioned three point plays, Seward had the lead by one 14-13. After NJC scored to go up 15-14 the Lady Saints would go on a 9-3 dash capped by a layup inside and then a three pointer from Kelsey Willson to give Seward a 23-16 lead with 9:23 to go in the half. The teams would go back and forth until the 5:25 mark when the spread would remain the same at 29-22 before the Lady Saints would get five quick ones, including a three pointer from Mattie Yanke to give them their largest lead of the game of 12 at 34-22. The Plainswomen would close the gap before the break but Seward would still hold a comfortable 38-31 lead as the teams went to the locker rooms at half.
Northeastern would carry their late first half momentum into the start of the second half as they opened the final 20 minutes on a 7-2 spurt to cut the Lady Saints lead to just one possession at 40-38. The two would remain tight for the first five minutes of the half but the Lady Saints would again begin to pull away midway through the half and held a 51-42 lead after an offensive rebound and putback from Ashlynn Knoll at the 12 minute mark. Later on Knoll would hit a pair of free throws to keep the lead at 9 for Seward but the Plainswomen’s leading scorer Adaugo Osuala would close the gap with five quick points and as the four minute mark hit the two teams were separated by just 4, 65-61. The Lady Saints drought without a basket from the field would extend to five and then six minutes as Northeastern made a pair of free throws and then a three pointer with 1:03 to go to take a one point lead. Down by one the Lady Saints would have the ball and would use nearly all 30 seconds of the shot clock before getting a shot off to try and take the lead. Mariah Lee’s shot was off the mark but Yanke would get the offensive rebound and kick it out to Hannah Rotolo. Rotolo then fired a shot up that wouldn’t connect but again the Lady Saints would get the offensive rebound and would play for the last shot after a timeout by Coach Toby Wynn with 12 seconds remaining on the clock. Out of the timeout the ball was in Lee’s hands on a drive to the basket with time running out when she went up for the shot with 4.9 seconds remaining and was fouled hard by Maty Diallo where she would have to go to the free throw line to earn her two points. Lee knocked down her first free throw attempt to tie the game at 66 before NJC Coach Daryl Parker called a timeout to set up the Plainswomen’s ensuing play and try to ice Lee on her second attempt. The Seward freshman felt no pressure and with ice in her veins played sweet string music with the second free throw to give the Lady Saints a 67-66 lead. Northeastern would get the ball to the other end quickly and would get a decent look from 10 feet but Alicia Nichols shot would be off the mark and the Lady Saints would come away with a one point 67-66 win to hand the Plainswomen their first loss of the season.
Lee’s two free throws with 4.9 on the clock sealed the win for the Lady Saints and gave her 15 points in the contest. She finished the game 9 for 10 from the free throw line, leading the way for Seward who was 23 of 27 (85%) from the line in the game. Knoll had a career night herself, posting her first double-double of the season with 16 points and a career high 14 rebounds in the win. Yanke also had a nice night for Seward, scoring 10 points and pulling down 8 rebounds in 28 minutes of work. Rotolo scored 8 points and had a team high 7 assists in the game while also picking off 3 NJC passes for steals.
Seward wouldn’t have long to celebrate handing Northeastern their first loss of the season as Saturday night their test was just as stiff, as they would take on Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in a rematch of the 2002 NJCAA National Championship Game that the Lady Saints were victorious in. The Lady Norse came into the contest 10-4 but three of their four losses had come by three points or less on the year. The Lady Saints came out ready to go from the opening tip, taking a quick 5-0 lead on a three pointer from Rotolo and then extending the lead to seven later on with another three from Rotolo to make it 12-5. However, as quick as the lead was built it was gone as the explosive offense of the Lady Norse poured in nine points in the blink of an eye to take a 14-12 lead of their own on the Lady Saints. The two would be tied at 14 as the midway point of the first half hit and would remain deadlocked at the six minute mark with the score 19-19. Autumn Miller would bang home a three pointer from the wing to break the tie and with two minutes remaining in the half would hit another long bomb to put Seward up six 29-23. NEO would be the ones who would take momentum to the locker room though as they close the final two minutes of the half on an 8-2 run to bring the two teams back to square one at 31-31 after 20 minutes of play.
Things were not looking good for Seward early in the second half as the Lady Norse came out of the locker room on fire, scoring 13 points to just 2 for Seward in the first 6 minutes to take a commanding 11 point lead 44-33. In this game of runs, the Lady Saints decided that it was time for another for their side and so trailing by 10 with 12:10 to go in the game they would get a trio of three pointers to fall from Miller and Yanke sandwiched around an NEO free throw and were right back in the game, down just two 47-45 at the 10 minute mark. Both teams would go into a rut offensively and after an offensive rebound and putback from Knoll the teams were all tied up again, this time at 51 with 6:43 to go in the game. The next 2:30 would see just a free throw exchanged by the teams so with 4 minutes remaining in regulation the game was still tied at 52. Rotolo would break the stalemate with 3:21 left with a pair of free throws to put Seward up 54-52 and that is where the score would stand until Lee stepped to the charity stripe and made a pair with 2:13 to go to give Seward a four point, 56-52 advantage. A basket by NEO leading scorer Inga Orekhova would draw the Lady Norse to within two and then another bucket from the All-American would knot the game up at 56-56 with 45 seconds to go. The Lady Saints would bring the ball up the court but then had trouble getting anything going as the shot clock wound down on them in what looked like it would be their final possession of the game and with 3 seconds on the shot clock Rotolo forced one up at the rim that was no good but would touch an NEO player before making its way out of bounds with 19 seconds to go. After a timeout by Seward, the Lady Saints ran through their set but as the clock began to tick under 5 seconds, it looked as if the game was going to be headed to overtime. With 3 seconds on the clock Lee rifled a pass into Knoll who had worked for position inside of the paint and Knoll caught the pass, turned around and found the bottom of the net with 1.5 to go to give the Lady Saints a 58-56 lead. NEO inbounded the ball but would not even get a shot off and Seward County would go on to win the thrilled by a count of 58-56 over the Lady Norse.
Knoll would struggle on the night offensively but her game winner would make up for it all as the freshman finished with just 8 points but reached double digits in the rebounding column for the second straight night with 11. Miller and Rotolo would combined in the backcourt for 24 points as both scored an even dozen in the win while combining for six three pointers on the night. Willson would finish with 9 points and 6 rebounds and Lee 7 points and 9 rebounds as the Lady Saints went on to win by two.
The two huge wins move Seward to 9-3 as they head to the holiday break. The young Lady Saints squad has now won four straight as they take a 2 ˝ week layoff before heading down to the Sunshine State to take on St. Petersburg and Hillsborough on December 29th & 30th.