Ashland one step away from a national title

Senior forward Ashley Dorner fires over Western Washington's Aleisha Hathaway in the second half of Ashland's 66-54 win in the Final Four. Dorner had six huge points to help hold off the Vikings.

Senior forward Ashley Dorner fires over Western Washington’s Aleisha Hathaway in the second half of Ashland’s 66-54 win in the Final Four. Dorner had six huge points to help hold off the Vikings.

By Chris Bils

All year, the Ashland women’s basketball team has had one goal: to get back to the national championship and win it. Wednesday night, the first part of that goal was accomplished when the Eagles took down Western Washington in the Final Four, 66-54.

Second-ranked Ashland (36-1) led from start to finish, but had to ward off a second-half push by the No. 5 Vikings (29-5) to secure a place in Friday’s championship against No. 10 Dowling (25-3).

“This team just doesn’t break,” AU head coach Sue Ramsey said. “It’s the definition of toughness. You can bend, but you’re not gonna break.”

After a sloppy first half after which the Eagles held a 29-19 lead, Western Washington found new life with a 10-2 run that made it 35-33 with 13:20 to play when Katie Colard drilled a 3-pointer.

AU senior forward Daiva Gerbec hit a jumper a minute later to push the lead back to four, but had to take a seat after picking up her third foul with 11:49 to play.

In stepped senior forward Ashley Dorner, who has been limited in the tournament run. Her impact could not have been bigger.

“Our players are ready to go,” Ramsey said. “Whenever they’re called upon, there’s one thing we can always count on, that they’re gonna give 100 percent. In my six years with Ashley she’s never given anything but.”

It started with an offensive rebound off of a missed 3-pointer by senior guard Lindsay Tenyak. Dorner caught the ball on the left baseline and spun into the lane, throwing up a hook shot with her weaker right hand that fell through to push the lead to six.

“We just took off from there,” senior forward Kari Daugherty said. “Ashley’s the heart and soul of this team, and for her to be able to come in and knock down that shot, everyone on the team got excited.”

That helped spark a 14-2 run that included four more points by Dorner in the biggest seven minutes of her career. She also grabbed three rebounds.

While Dorner provided the spark, Daugherty and Gerbec were the ignition for the Ashland offense most of the night. Daugherty finished with team highs of 24 points and 16 rebounds and Gerbec had 19 points and seven rebounds on 7 of 13 shooting.

With the inside presence of the Vikings’ Britt Harris and Sarah Hill—as well as Kayla Bernsen off the bench—both Daugherty and Gerbec found scoring around the hoop difficult, and the Eagles rode efficient jump shooting from the high post by Gerbec for stretches.

“They were just a good post defense team, so I think that sometimes to counter that we have to kind of get up in space,” Gerbec said.

Ashland’s guards struggled to get going. Tenyak had the largest presence from the outside at halftime with three points, and sophomore guard Taylor Woods and junior guard Alyssa Miller combined for just two points in the first 20 minutes on two Woods free throws.

Each picked their spots in the second half, with Woods finishing with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists and Miller tallying four 4 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Tenyak had 4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals and made some huge defensive plays down the stretch.

Miller’s play on offense was crucial down the stretch. After not shooting in the first half, she went into attack mode during the run that put the game away.

“Alyssa’s smart,” Ramsey said. “She knows what her team needs.”

Western Washington’s Corrin Waltrip was terrific in the losing effort. The senior had a game-high 28 points as she desperately tried to keep her team’s season alive.

The match-up between Daugherty and Harris was one to remember, with each of them rendering the other less effective than usual. Harris ended up with 11 points and 9 rebounds on 4 of 15 shooting and Daugherty did her damage on 9 of 22 shooting.

“She played like a senior,” Daugherty said. “It was a battle.”

Ashland won the all-important rebounding battle, 43-35, but the Vikings held the edge on the offensive glass with 11 offensive rebounds to eight for the Eagles.

Neither team shot particularly well, with Ashland holding the advantage at 44.4 percent (24 of 54) from the field compared to 29.5 percent (18 of 61) for WWU.