Published Mar. 18, 2013 on www.gannonsports.com
The Gannon Lady Knight changed from “Sweet” to “Elite” Monday night.
Already in the Sweet 16 and playing in the championship game of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional in front of a partisan crown of 1,403 at their Hammermill Center, the Knights beat California (Pa.) 50-47 to advance the Elite 8 in San Antonia, Texas next week.
In no way did the victory, the 16th straight at home for No. 1 seed Gannon, come in an easy fashion. The Vulcans, the No. 7 seed that had already beaten No. 2 Edinboro, led 18-13 at halftime.
Gannon (31-4) did not catch Cal (22-9) until sophomore Doriyon Glasslayup with 8:47 left in the game tied the score at 27.
It then became the Nettie Blake Show. The 6-1 Gannon sophomore, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors, scored the next nine points to cap a 12-0 run and 36-27 lead with 3:34 on the clock. Cal had not scored in 7 minutes, 27 seconds.
“Nettie not only played a good game, but she showed so much heart,” Gannon coach Cleve Wright said. “She put us on her back.”
Blake finished with 12 points and 16 rebounds – seven on the offensive boards – for the Knights, ranked No. 7 in the USA Today Sports Division II Coaches’ Poll.
“I wasn’t pleased with my performance in the first half,” said Blake, who had two points and seven rebounds in the first 20 minutes. “I wasn’t about to let my teammates down.”
“I felt like we were on the edge and ready to go on a run,” Wright said of his team. “But we knew Cal wasn’t going to give up.”
The Knights at one time trailed by nine points, 18-9, in the first half. They eventually led by nine, 45-36, when junior Jen Papich dropped in two free throws with 46 seconds on the clock.
But the never-say-die Vulcans, who had split two game with Gannon during the season and lost once in the PSAC playoffs, showed their heart. Senior Stephanie Michael’s second 3-pointer, this one with 24 second left, cut the Knights’ lead to 47-45.
It was 50-47 after a Blake free throw with 16 seconds left when Gannon players came up with two outstanding defensive plays in the physical, defensive game.
Glass scored 16 points and had six rebounds and made the All-Tournament Team. One of her biggest plays was a blocked a 3-point attempt by Michael with 10 seconds left. Michael attempted another 3-pointer, but this time it was sophomore Mollie Sebald who got a hand on the ball with 2 seconds left. Cal sophomore Chelsea McKnight grabbed the rebound bounded off the rim as time expired.
“I couldn’t have asked for them to play harder or better defense,” Cal coach Jess Strom said.
Michael, who scored 12 points but had six turnovers in her last game in a Vulcan uniform, was guarded most of the night by Glass. “She is a great defender,” said Michael, also an All-Tournament selection.
Junior Ashley Hines, scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Vulcans. But she had trouble stopping Blake in the paint. “She was tough,” Hines said, “but we didn’t give up.”
“(Blake) rebounds as well as anyone in the (PSAC),” Strom said.
Gannon scored made just 6 of 27 shots in the first half against the tough Vulcan defense. But Wright felt the team just needed to concentrate on its shots. He was very pleased with the defense, which limited Cal to 7 of 23 shooting. “The first thing I talked about at halftime was our excellent defense. And they were able to finish when we went on the run in the second half.”
Sophomore Brittany Batts, known for her long-range shooting, had seven points but was continually hounded when she had the ball made just 1 of 7 3-pointers, but her defense was outstanding and she had four steals.
“I try to work hard on defense every day,” Batts said. “But I didn’t get any of those steals on my own,” she said as she credited her teammates for defensive help.
Junior Jen Papich, who had three personal fouls in the first half, scored seven points and had six rebounds.
Blake said it was special when she was named the outstanding player of the tournament. “I was named MVP in front of my parents and they don’t get to see me play too often,” she said.
Wright does, every day in practice and games. “I told her she can get better,” he said.
And that’s a scary situation for future Gannon opponents.