Blue Hawk women rally to beat Vikings in OT
Kylee Bittner isn't about to let her final season at Dickinson State go down in flames.
The senior guard got her team riled up at halftime after the Blue Hawk women's basketball team's abysmal first-half shooting performance Saturday against Valley City State.
"We came into halftime and I said, 'I'm not leaving here with regret,'" Bittner said. "We have five games left and I don't want to finish it out like this. We basically turned it around from there."
After DSU fought back in the second half and forced overtime, Bittner and senior guard Jessica Nieves took over.
They combined for 10 of the DSU's 12 points in the extra period and facilitated a 58-53 victory at Scott Gymnasium in one of the team's final six Dakota Athletic Conference games.
Nieves led the Blue Hawks (9-15, 1-0 DAC) with 19 points. Playing with six stitches above her bruised right eye after an accident in practice Wednesday, Bittner had 14 points, four steals and three assists.
"I'm so proud of these ladies," DSU head coach Andre Goldberg said. "It hasn't probably been the season that anybody envisioned, but we have a great opportunity to finish this thing very strong. Tonight was huge for us."
DSU misfired on several opportunities to make a tying- or go-ahead basket in the second half.
The Blue Hawks shaved a 24-15 halftime deficit to 28-23 in the first 4 minutes of the second half and never trailed by more than six points -- it was 44-38 with 4:08 remaining -- the rest of the way. They had it within one point three times.
Then, with 22.8 seconds remaining, senior center Mandy Mullock came through with the biggest play of the day.
Mullock spun to the basket in the post, made her shot and drew a foul on Valley City State sophomore Brittany Lehner. She then made the ensuing free throw to tie it at 46.
Mullock finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three steals.
DSU forced a turnover on Valley City State's final possession of regulation, but the Blue Hawks were left with little time to make a play.
Nevertheless, DSU's momentum carried over into overtime and it scored four points in 18 seconds -- Nieves made a quick layup off the tip and Bittner laid another in off a steal -- to go up 50-46.
"They outhustled us and did a great job of getting to the rim in the second half. We didn't do that," Vikings head coach Jill DeVries said. "I think we played not to lose instead of playing to win. That's sort of what happens sometimes."
Lehner had 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Vikings (15-10, 0-1 DAC) while Sierra Even had 13 points.
The Blue Hawks were dreadful in the first half, shooting just 23 percent from the field, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
But, DSU's defensive spark staked an offensive turnaround in the second half. It shot 50 percent from the field and 11 of 14 from the free-throw line after halftime.
"We realized we had to step it up," Nieves said. "We had to have more urgency, more intensity. We wanted to win."
There was an added incentive to victory too.
DSU came into the game ranked sixth in the NAIA Division II Independent standings while VCSU was second. The teams need to finish ranked in the top four in order to reach the postseason tournament for independent teams.
"It's huge," Goldberg said. "... We just need to continue to prove that we belong in the independent tournament and give ourselves a shot to make that tournament and hopefully see where the cards fall after that."