Sixth-seeded Shorter rallied from an 18-point first half deficit to pull within two points with less than a minute to go, but seventh-seeded Rogers State got a big 3-pointer from Sasha Barnes with 18 seconds left to pull out a 64-59 victory in the second round of the NAIA national tournament in Frankfort, Ky.
Rogers State (22-11) advances to today’s Elite Eight and will take on Georgetown, an 80-71 winner over upstart Avila.
Shorter’s season ends after the Lady Hawks reeled off 28 wins to tie a school record while also notching the program’s first national tournament win and Sweet 16 appearance.
“They got off to a good start and we didn’t,” said Shorter head coach Vic Mitchell, who will say farewell to seven seniors that depart the program as the winningest class in school history.
“We fought our way back into it by halftime and got it down to one possession with under a minute to go, but you have to give (Barnes) credit for hitting that 3 with us down two late.”
Shorter, which fell behind 43-19 in the first half of Wednesday’s first round matchup with Olivet Nazarene before rallying for a win, found itself in an eerily similar situation against Rogers State.
The Hillcats raced out to a 29-11 first half lead, led 33-21 at the half and pushed its lead back up to 16 on a 3-pointer by Leah Smith and layup from Ariani Silva with 13:14 to go.
The Lady Hawks (28-7) responded with an 18-2 run that included a 3:48 scoreless drought by Rogers State and pulled within 48-46 on Megan Queen’s layup with 7:32 remaining.
Shorter got back to within two twice more in the waning moments, the final time at 61-59 after Queen made 1 of 2 from the line with 46 seconds to go, but Barnes, who finished with 11 points, knocked down an open 3 from the right wing with the shot clock winding down on Rogers State’s ensuing possession to make it a five-point game with 18.4 seconds left and spell the end for Shorter.
“We adjusted and played a little better as the game wore on,” Mitchell said. “But we got off to such a slow start and it was hard to overcome.”
Robyn Foster scored 15 of her game-high 18 points in the second half to spur Shorter’s comeback bid. The senior finished 7-for-13 from the field and added four rebounds and four assists in her final collegiate game. Queen had 11 points and five rebounds and Moore chipped in with 10 points for Shorter.
Logan Froese paced Rogers State with 17 points and Gianna Woods pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds for the Hillcats, who went 10-for-13 from the foul line and forced 19 turnovers by Shorter. Rogers State won the rebounding battle 35-33.
It was a difficult end for Shorter in a season that will go down as one of the best in school history.
The Lady Hawks tied the 1978 and 1979 squads with those 28 wins and scored the program’s first national tournament victory in its fourth trip to the event. Shorter eclipsed 20 victories for the fifth straight season and won the third place game in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament to earn a third straight trip to the national tournament. Shorter was the only representative from the SSAC to make it to this year’s Sweet 16 after Belhaven, Lee and Loyola each lost in the first round.
“It was a tremendous year for this program and for this team,” Mitchell said in his postgame interview. “This is a tough way to end it, but this team and these players had already built their legacy.”