Winter Park, FL -- After knocking off the second and third seeds in the NCAA Division II South Regional Tournament, the Lady Blazers fell just short against top seed and host Rollins, 56-54. Valdosta State completes the season at 22-8 with the most impressive postseason run for VSU since 2008.
Brittany Ferguson turned in her best performance of the postseason with 20 points and 11 rebounds for her 11th double-double of the season. Senior counterpart Sczeny Hartry also scored double figures with 10 points, adding four assists.
Valdosta State had to be prepared to score with Rollins as the Tars were averaging seven three-pointers per game. In the regional final though, VSU put up seven threes, including three each from Hartry and Brittney Nelson while Rollins only managed three long balls. Two of the Rollins threes, however, came from leading scorer Ashley Jones, who finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Kourtnie Berry came off the bench to score 11 pivotal points for Rollins while Paris Moore chipped in 10 points with five rebounds and three steals.
Valdosta State started the game as the hotter team. Just under four minutes into it, Kourtnee Williams scored VSU’s only three-pointer that didn’t come from Nelson or Hartry. Her bucket from beyond the arc claimed a 7-2 advantage for the Lady Blazers.
Ferguson made a free throw at the 11:11 mark to claim VSU’s largest lead of the game, 16-9, but Rollins came roaring back after that, led by Berry off the bench. Berry scored five of the next Rollins seven points to spark a 7-0 Tar run that would tie the game.
Berry converted two free throws, then Moore scored on a lay-up. Berry kept the run going with another lay-up and a free throw to tie the game at 16 with 8:37 left to play in the first half. Nelson finally broke the run with a three-pointer two minutes later, but it would not be enough to hold off the Tars.
Rollins claimed its first lead, 20-19, on a Sarah Blackburn lay-up at the 5:30 mark. Hartry answered for VSU with another three-pointer off a Maylisa Johnson assist, but Blackburn tied the game again with a jump shot.
Berry made the next two free throws and a lay-up to give the home team a four-point lead, 26-22, with 3:02 left to play in the first frame. Hartry, who completed a strong postseason herself, averaging a team high 15.7 points per game in the NCAA DII Tournament, put in another three-pointer to make it a one-point game. Rollins, however, closed out the half scoring the final six points to stretch the Tar lead to seven, 32-25, at the break.
Despite the Lady Blazers pulling within one point at the 16:30 mark on another Nelson long ball, VSU watched Rollins push the lead all the way to eight on a Jones lay-up at the 10:40 mark, 43-35, and on a free throw yet again at the 9:49 mark, 45-37. Those were the largest leads of the game for Rollins and they proved to be insurmountable.
Valdosta State eventually tied the game, 53-53, at the 3:04 mark but Jones hit one of her two three-pointers to put the pressure on Valdosta State. Moore fouled Hartry with four seconds left. Down three, Hartry had to make the first shot and miss the second. She did what VSU needed and Bena Hanyard came down with the offensive rebound.
Hanyard was able to put up a hotly contested shot in the lane that rimmed out. Rollins snagged the rebound with one second left to clinch the game.
While the final loss of the season is always tough, the Lady Blazers did receive the good news that Nelson and Ferguson were named to the NCAA DII South Regional All-Tournament team. Nelson averaged a double-double (12.7 points, 10.3 rebounds) throughout the tournament while Ferguson averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in the three tournament games. VSU’s highest scorer in the tournament, Hartry, however, was not named to the All-Tournament team.
The Lady Blazers lose three seniors this season: Courtney Mitchell, Ferguson and Hartry. However, VSU plans on returning most of the rest of the squad, including the season’s third, fourth and sixth leading scorers, Nelson, Johnson and Williams.