For the third year in a row, the stay in Salina, Kan., has proven to be a short one for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm.
Tyler (Texas) Junior College sophomore Bria Emanuel was a perfect 8-for-8 game from the field and scored 19 points to lead a balanced attack as the Apaches rolled to an easy 74-52 win over SWIC on Tuesday in the opening round of the NJCAA Division I National Tournament.
Making its fifth trip to play in the Salina Bicentennial Center since the 1999 season, SWIC's dream for a longer stay evaporated. The Blue Storm simply self-destructed against relentless full-court pressure put on by the talented Apaches (29-5) in the first half.
The Blue Storm committed 18 of its 24 turnovers during the first half, which ended with Tyler holding a commanding 32-17 lead.
"Another bad first half at the national tournament. It cost us last year and it cost us again this year," Blue Storm coach Mike Juenger said. "You're not going to beat anybody committing 18 turnovers and scoring 17 points in a half of basketball, let alone one of the top programs in the nation. Still, I thought we were all right until the last two minutes of the first half. We're down 24-16 and they outscore us 8-1 to go up 15 points at half. That killed us.''
SWIC (23-6) rallied in the first eight minutes of the second half, cutting its deficit to 38-33. But when sophomore Breanna Baker fouled out with more then nine minutes left, the Blue Storm was all but dead.
Led by Emanuel and Shemise Robertson (16 points) the Apaches slowly pulled away and into a round of 16 game at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Southern Idaho.
"We didn't quit. We kept battling and we gave ourselves a chance in the second half. When Erika and Breanna (Baker) picked up their fourth fouls, we were in trouble," Juenger said. "I tried getting her (Baker) out of the game, but I was too late and she picked up No. 5. It wasn't a 22-point game. We were throwing up shots late in the game.''
McCaster paced the Blue Storm with 16 points, while Lateesha Deloach added 12. But two of the top players in Region 24, Deloach and McCaster were a combined 9 of 25 from the floor and just three-of-12 from beyond the 3-point line.
The Blue Storm's third leading scorer, freshman Laura Litchfield, was only 2 of 11 from the floor and scored only four points.
"We just didn't make enough shots. When your top three offensive players go 9-of-36, you're in trouble," Juenger said. "I'm sure nerves played a part in this. But we dug ourselves in too deep."
SWIC finished the day shooting 18 of 55 from the floor and going just 12 of 22 from the foul line.
"I'm very proud of this basketball team. To be able to get to the national tournament three straight years and for this group to be able to do it back to back, makes them one of the great teams in school history,'' Juenger said. "It just would have been nice to win a game at the national tournament.
"There were tears in the locker room after the game. But these girls have nothing to be down about. They represented their school, their team, their families and themselves very well. It's been a great year." Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org