The 4th ranked Seward County Lady Saints put together arguably their best effort of the season Thursday afternoon at the NJCAA National Tournament in Lubbock, Texas, but it wasn’t enough as they ran into the red hot, and defending National Champion Gulf Coast Lady Commodores, eventually falling 83-72 to end their season 32-3 and in 5th place in the country.
With the Rip Griffin Center rocking from 250 Seward County fans making the trip to Lubbock to cheer on the Lady Saints, the game got off to a great start for both sides as the teams traded blow for blow early on, playing to an 11-10 Gulf Coast lead just 2:38 into things. A pair of Joanna Grymek free throws gave Seward a one point lead against the top seeded Commodores, but Gulf Coast battled back to tie the score at 16 midway through the quarter. Seward went cold for the next 2:05 and Gulf Coast took advantage, opening up their largest lead of the first at 25-18 with 2:50 remaining. Grymek scored in the paint to get the Lady Saints back on track, but the Commodores continued to put points on the board, ending the period with 29 to hold an eight point lead on Seward 29-21.
Grymek put up four more points in the first minute of the second to cut the Gulf Coast lead to six early on. The Lady Saints didn’t have an answer for the multifaceted Commodore attack though and midway through the period, Gulf Coast had built their largest lead of the half at 43-31. Just when it looked like the Lady Saints Cinderella Slipper was about to fall off, Erin Richardson found Manuela Fungate down low for two and then the sophomore sniper nailed a three to quickly get Seward back to within seven with 4:46 left in the half. It was a nine point game in favor of Gulf Coast with just seconds remaining in the half when Lady Saints Head Coach drew up a perfectly designed play, getting Grymek a layup at the rim with 0.1 second left in the period to send Seward to the locker rooms at half down just seven at 54-47.
The half couldn’t have been scripted much better for the Lady Saints as they shot 61% from the floor and 40% from the three point line while outrebounding the athletic Commodores 20-11 in the half. Grymek dominated with 18 points on 6 of 8 shooting while Mollie Mounsey had eight points in the first half. The only negative stat for Seward in the half was 10 turnovers leading to 11 Gulf Coast points.
Seward missed a golden opportunity early in the second half, holding Gulf Coast without a single point for the Commodores first four possessions of the period, but the Lady Saints missed a pair of layups, two free throws, and an open three of their own during the stretch to remain down seven. The Lady Saints managed just one field goal in the first six minutes of the third quarter, but their defense slowed Gulf Coast down enough to remain in the game, down just 59-50 with 4:00 to go in the period. Grymek scored six straight for Seward and Richardson hit a late three for the Lady Saints, but Gulf Coast answered every bucket with one of their own to remain up nine after three 68-59.
Richardson opened the fourth for Seward with a big three to get them back to within six, but Gulf Coast answered with a triple of their own to push the lead back to nine. Seward kept fighting, staying within striking distance of the Commodores before Mounsey drained a guarded three to close to within five at 77-72 with 3:12 remaining. Turning it up a notch on defense, Seward held Gulf Coast without a point for the next two minutes, but they couldn’t connect on a pair of three point attempts as they tried to get within one possession as the score remained 77-72 into the final minute of action. Seward was forced to foul as they tried to extend the game and Gulf Coast took care of business at the free throw line, going 6 for 6 from the line in the final minute of the contest, finishing off an 83-72 win against the Lady Saints to end Seward’s season.
The final numbers were solid for Seward who shot 50% from the field in the game and outrebounded Gulf Coast by 13. Grymek had arguably the best game of her Seward career, scoring a game high 26 and ripping down 16 rebounds on the NJCAA’s biggest stage. Seagler led three other Lady Saints in double figures with 12. The Lady Saints only downfall came in the turnover category where they played without starting point guard Neidy Ocuane who was injured in Tuesday’s game as Seward coughed it up a season worst 25 times, leading to 28 points for the Commodores.
Seward finishes the season in 5th place in the NJCAA National Tournament, posting a 32-3 record in 2017 with their only three losses of the year coming to #2 Hutchinson and #1 Gulf Coast. The Commodores improve to 32-2 and will take on Salt Lake in the semifinals on Friday.
#4 SEWARD COUNTY/#3 GULF COAST STATE BOX SCORE<http://www.sewardsaints.com/sports/wbkb/2016-17/boxscores/20170323_pij8.xml?view=boxscore>