DSU beats Black Hills State for first DAC titleAshley Emmons couldn’t hold back her tears of joy after the final horn sounded on the Dakota Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament championship game Sunday afternoon at Scott Gymnasium.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Ashley Emmons couldn’t hold back her tears of joy after the final horn sounded on the Dakota Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament championship game Sunday afternoon at Scott Gymnasium.
The Dickinson State senior, who had played on teams with losing records her entire colle-giate career until this season, scored 18 points and iced her team’s 67-64 victory over 10th-ranked Black Hills State by making a free throw with 2 seconds left, sealing the seventh-ranked Blue Hawks’ first DAC tournament title.
“It’s unbelievable,” Emmons said. “No one could ask for more. We won the tournament. We won the regular season. You can’t ask for more.”
Emmons knocked down three 3-pointers in the second half and was one of several Blue Hawks to make plays down the stretch of a game that was close throughout.
Emmons gave DSU a 55-52 lead on her final 3-pointer with 7:08 left and, after BHSU battled back, Kelly Pankratz nailed a spot-up trey from the right wing to break a tie with 3:21 left and give the Blue Hawks a 64-61 lead they never gave up.
“After the game, after you unwind, you notice just how big those shots were,” DSU coach Guy Fridley said.
However, Black Hills State (24-7) didn’t go down easy.
It took a clutch defensive play from DSU junior Juanita Newsom in the final seconds to swing the game in the Blue Hawks’ (24-6) favor for good.
Newsom, a 5-foot-8 forward, perfectly timed Piggy Pili’s 3-point attempt with 8 seconds left and got a hand on the ball, which was touched by a BHSU player and went out of bounds with 4 seconds left.
“The only thing I was think-ing … was don’t foul, don’t foul her,” Newsom said. “As I was running out to close out, I let her get the shot off enough because I know how she shoots it, it’s kind of flat. So, I let her get the shot off just enough to tip it in the air.”
The Yellow Jackets put Emmons at the line and the fifth-year senior made her first but watched the second attempt roll off the rim. It didn’t matter though as BHSU couldn’t get a desperation shot off in time and the Blue Hawks — and their student section — rushed the floor as conference champions.
“It was a battle, a battle to the end,” said DSU sophomore guard Kelsey Boedeker, who led all scorers with 19 points. “That’s what championship games should be like.”
Not only did the win cap an incredible regular season for the Blue Hawks, it also completed an amazing turnaround for the program that hadn’t had a winning season since 2003-04.
In his first two seasons as DSU’s head coach, Fridley had teams finish a combined 13-44 overall and 6-22 in conference play. Before this season, the last conference regular-season title the Blue Hawks earned was shared with the University of Mary in 2003.
While Fridley knew his team would be improved over last season, he never expected the Blue Hawks to be outright DAC champions.
“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year if we would be in this position, I’d maybe shrug my shoulders a little bit and say, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Fridley said. “… Coming from winning four games in the conference last year to doing this this year is just a huge credit to the kids we put on the floor.”
And on Sunday, those players showed just how they’ve reached this point.
BHSU held a 37-34 halftime advantage despite DSU shoot-ing 59 percent from the field in the second half.
Turnovers hurt the Blue Hawks throughout the first half and early in the second half and the Yellow Jackets made the most of the opportunities.
Despite DSU’s strong perimeter shooting and BHSU’s ability to get to the basket, neither team ever held a big lead.
BHSU used a quick six-point run to go ahead 30-24 with 5:47 left in the first half. But, DSU quickly erased the lead and, with a pair of fast-break layups off steals by Emmons, regained a 31-30 lead.
As the teams went back and forth the rest of the half, the Yellow Jackets took their slight halftime advantage when Brittany Fuhrman sank a jumper from the right baseline with 15 seconds remaining.
Fuhrman scored a team-high 17 points and had two 3-pointers midway through the second half that kept the Blue Hawks from pulling away when they started heating up.
“I’m not mad by any means,” BHSU coach Mark Nore said. “… They did a good job of getting their shooters some looks.”
DSU was just 1 of 4 from 3-point range in the first half, but was 6 of 9 after halftime.
Nore said Pankratz’s 3 that gave DSU the lasting lead, tremendously helped swing the game in the Blue Hawks’ favor.
“That was a big shot,” Nore said.
Getting hot from the outside helped DSU overcome the Yellow Jackets’ great defensive effort inside against center Kia Herbel.
Herbel, DSU’s leading scorer, was held to just eight points on 4 of 6 shooting from the field the 6-foot-2 junior grabbed a game-high 11 re-bounds.
“We knew they were going to try to defend her and limit her touches inside and they did that,” Fridley said.
Both teams now move on to the NAIA Division II national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. The Blue Hawks earned an automatic bid by winning the tournament and the Yellow Jackets are a near-lock to earn an at-large bid because they’ll likely have a high rank in the final poll of the regular season, which is released Wednesday.
Fridley, whose team started the season with two losses, said reaching the tournament is a credit to the team and how things slowly game together as the season wore on.
“It’s been fun to watch them grow throughout the year,” Fridley said.