Lexington, Ky. – Senior guard Kristen Hayes scored on a running drive deep into the paint with 0.4 seconds remaining in the game, lifting the No. 20 Transylvania women's basketball team to an indelible 63-61 win over the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Fightin' Engineers in the 2019 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Tournament Championship game at the Beck Center on Saturday night.
Hayes' drive vaulted the Pioneers to their first HCAC Tournament championship in four seasons, stamping Transylvania's ticket into the NCAA Tournament with the conference's automatic bid. The Pioneers will also appear in their first NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Tournament since the 2014-2015 season.
The senior provided the final two buckets on a night with razor-thin margins for the duration of a tournament championship game which featured 21 ties and 14 lead changes.
Saturday's win not only paved the latest path into the NCAA Tournament for the Pioneers but authored a dramatic chapter in the latest edition of the three-year championship game rivalry between Transylvania and Rose-Hulman; it was Rose-Hulman who won the last two consecutive HCAC title games, both against Transylvania in Terre Haute, Indiana as the No. 1 seed.
With the seeding flipped this year and Transylvania playing host to Rose-Hulman in the 2019 championship bout, the Pioneers returned the favor on Saturday night.
Senior guard Celia Kline posted a team-high 16 points on 4-for-10 shooting from the field and shot 6-for-8 from the free-throw line as she was named the HCAC Tournament's Most Valuable Player. The Pioneers hit 17 of 21 free throws versus 7-for-14 shooting from the foul line by Rose-Hulman.
Junior guard Shelby Boyle had an all-around performance including the game-winning assist to Hayes via a catch-and-handoff on the game-winning inbounds play. Boyle finished with eight points, nine rebounds, five assists, and five steals, hitting 3 of 7 field goals as she was named along with Kline to the All-Tournament Team.
From the start, Saturday night's game resumed the clash of styles between the fast-paced, three-point flinging Pioneers and the defense-oriented, possession-limiting Engineers. Rose-Hulman hit 8-of-15 field goals in the first quarter while the Pioneers hit two 3-pointers, leading to a 17-14 Engineer advantage after one quarter.
The Pioneers showed off the best of their defense in the second quarter, holding Rose-Hulman to just eight points as Transylvania forged a 28-25 halftime lead.
Intensity increased exponentially and the game tightened even more in the second half; junior guard Ashton Woodard connected on one of her two 3-pointers for the night to put the Pioneers up, 34-28 with 8:31 in the third quarter. The score would mark the largest lead of the night for either team the rest of the way.
Averaging just three made 3-pointers a game, Rose-Hulman exceeded those figures with a 3-for-6 performance from outside in the third quarter to tie up the game at 42-42 heading into the fourth quarter.
The final 10 minutes tested the championship resolve of both teams, as well as the emotional fortitude of onlookers at the Beck Center as neither team, would lead by more than two points the rest of the night. The lead changed hands seven times in the fourth quarter leading up to Hayes' championship-sealing runner.
Rose-Hulman entered the final two minutes of regulation with a 57-55 lead after Debie Gedeon hit a go-ahead jumper with 3:33 left in the fourth quarter. Woodard responded by drawing a foul and connecting on both free throws to knot up the game at 57-all with 1:55 remaining in the game.
Rose-Hulman's Abby Bromenschenkel, one of two Engineers to receive All-Tournament honors, missed a pair of crucial free throws on the next trip down for Rose-Hulman, but made amends as her sister Ally grabbed the offensive rebound and returned the pass to the former for a bucket, giving Rose-Hulman a 59-57 cushion at the 1:41 mark.
Going the other way, Transylvania sophomore guard Zenoviah Walker attacked the basket and was fouled, hitting both free throws to tie the game at 59-59 with 1:11 to go. Ally Bromenschenkel was torrid in the clutch for the Engineers on the way to notching All-Tournament acclaim as she scored two of her seven fourth-quarter points on the ensuing possession, knocking down a jumper to give Rose-Hulman a 61-59 lead with 50 seconds remaining.
The baton was passed to Hayes as the senior carved down the left side of the paint for a right-handed layup with 32 seconds to go in the fourth quarter to again tie up the action at 61-61.
With 10 seconds remaining, Abby Bromenschenkel took the ball from the right wing into a crowded paint where Transylvania sophomore center Miranda Otero came up with a key block, jarring the ball loose onto the floor. Boyle dove to the ball and called a timeout in the middle of a scrum, handing possession to the Pioneers at midcourt with four seconds remaining.
Hayes triggered the inbound towards Boyle, who popped out near the left side and immediately handed the ball back to Hayes, who used a burst of speed from the sideline to step past Rose-Hulman's perimeter defenders and knife to the hoop, kissing the ball off the window with four-tenths of a second remaining.
Rose-Hulman's desperation inbound from midcourt sailed out of bounds, and the Pioneers extinguished the clock as celebration ensued.
Rose-Hulman concluded its year with an overall record of 20-7. The Pioneers will continue their magical season into the NCAA Tournament with a current record of 25-2, extending their current winning streak to 20 straight games. Transylvania is now 16-0 in the 2019 calendar year.
Defense was a factor in the instant classic as Rose-Hulman shot 43 percent from the field while the Pioneers finished the evening 41 percent from the floor. The Pioneers hit 8-of-24 three-pointers as Walker, Kline, Boyle, and Woodard each hit a pair of triples.
Transylvania survived Rose-Hulman's 41 rebounds, 19 of which came on the offensive end, versus the Pioneers' 22 rebounds on the evening. Transylvania made up the difference in points off turnovers, outscoring Rose-Hulman 19-2 in that category.
Woodard finished with 12 points, two assists, and two rebounds. Walker was the other double-digit scorer for the Pioneers with 13 points and two assists.
The Pioneers now wait to discover where they will appear on the NCAA Tournament 64-team bracket. Their opponent and first-round assignment will be revealed during the 2019 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Selection Show, streamed live on NCAA.com on Monday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time.
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