VIDEO: Lady Blues win regular season title

Very seldom does a team define its season with a single 4.4 second stretch of time.

With MIAA conference title hopes on the line, the No. 10 Lady Blues experienced a gut check week en route to the postseason.

After having finished off a sweep of conference leading Pittsburg State University the weekend before, Washburn turned its eyes to a familiar foe in Emporia State University.

The “Turnpike Tussle” opponent came into the game ready to place itself in a position to claim the three seed in the MIAA conference tournament. Having split its last two games on the road, the familiar confines of White auditorium would help buoy the Lady Hornets.

In the first half, both teams played heated defense, hitting the boards hard as each squad played for more than just a win.

As the first half wore on, neither team was able to open up a breakaway lead, the lead never growing to more than six points. Senior guard Ebonie Williams finished the first half with 11 points and the game with a team leading 15 points.

“Give them a lot of credit,” said Ron McHenry, Washburn head coach. “They pushed about as hard as anyone has all year.”

In the second half both teams continued to fight hard from the first play to last. Washburn, which led by just three points at the half, opened up a lead that extended to as much as 13 points at the midway point.

Despite the lead, the home team wasn’t about to let their guests push them around on their floor. With just over 11 minutes left in the game ESU made a run, shrinking the lead to 6 points in roughly three minutes of play.

While play from senior center Cassie Lombardino and junior guard Laura Kinderknecht built the lead that the Lady Hornets had torn down, one player more known for her dirty work under the goal would prove instrumental in stemming of the ESU torrent of scoring.

Scoring six of the last eight Washburn points, junior forward Tiara George battled under the goal. Giving the team a boost offensively after ESU had just completed a 7-0 run, George, more known for her defensive presence pummeled the Lady Hornet inside players repeatedly on the glass, converting second chance shots down the stretch.

Despite the tough play from the entire team, Washburn turned to a familiar face in Williams. With 4.4 seconds left to go in regulation, the Lady Blues had to go the length of the floor to take back the game. Trailing 52-51, the play unfolded in a different way than had been talked over in the timeout just prior to inbounding the ball.

“Yeah they pressed us coming out of the timeout,” said Williams. “I wasn’t supposed to get the ball in my hands right away. I knew I had to get the ball down the court. I just felt like I was open I took it.”

Letting go of the shot with less than two seconds left to go the guard, who up to that point was shooting 1-6 from the floor in the half, drove to the baseline and let loose from 16 feet away. When the buzzer sounded, Washburn had claimed at least a share of the MIAA title, winning 53-52.

Returning home, Washburn planned to lock down sole possession of first place in the MIAA, a first seed in the conference postseason tournament and position itself for a hosting seed in the south central national regionals.

Prior to the senior day game matchup, the team leaders weren’t worrying about the hoopla that usually is attached to the final regular season home game of their careers.

“I mean we’re just concentrating on finishing up the season strong,” said Lombardino. “If we everything we want to this won’t be the last time we play at home since we’ll have a chance to host regionals here.”

Lincoln University however wouldn’t make it that easy as the Lady Blue Tigers came in playing a brand of basketball that Washburn had to overcome in the two teams’ matchup earlier this year.

Featuring two top five rebounders on their roster, LU fought hard on the boards throughout the game. As just one of five teams that managed to outrebound Washburn all year, the Lady Blues were determined to correct the disparity on the glass in their favor.

“They’re a good team that play a physical type of ball,” said senior guard Stevi Schultz. “We want to make sure we take care of business against this team.

With six players pulling down four or more rebounds, the Lady Blues would manage to win the fight down low. Williams would once again lead the team with 15 points as the combination of defense and rebounding proved to much for the Lady Blue Tigers to overcome. Washburn took the win 72-47.

Going forward now, Washburn will be the No. 1 seed in the MIAA conference tournament. The first round matchup will see Missouri Western State University matched up against the Lady Blues. Washburn swept the Lady Griffons in the regular season.