Furious comeback takes Eagles through to the Final Four

By Chris Bils

It just felt like nothing could go right for Ashland in the first half of Tuesday’s Elite Eight game against Gannon. Shots were not falling, easy passes were slipping into opposing hands and back-to-back National Player of the Year Kari Daugherty had just five points on 1 of 7 shooting from the field.

Still, the Eagles found themselves down by only six (31-25) at halftime, and boy did they come out firing in the second half.

Ashland used a 30-4 run over nine minutes to turn a 33-25 deficit into a 55-37 lead with 10:40 to play on the way to a 74-63 win and a spot in the Final Four.

“We didn’t get rattled,” Daugherty said. “We knew that it was a long game and we just had to take it one possession at a time, get a stop and then come down and get a score. We did a very good job of maintaining composure.”

Senior forward Daiva Gerbec led the Eagles with 23 points and eight rebounds in a physical battle down low, and sophomore guard Taylor Woods carried over her stellar play from the regional tournament, finishing two rebounds shy of a triple-double (21 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds).

Ashland held a 42-26 rebounding advantage, including 17-7 on the offensive boards.

Daugherty heated up in the second half to finish with 15 points and 15 rebounds, which means she has recorded a double-double in all 10 tournament games she has played in as an Eagle.

“I did not shoot very well, and I just knew that I had to do whatever I could to help my team,” Daugherty said.

Gannon came out on fire and took a 21-12 lead with 11:34 left in the first half behind 5 of 6 shooting from 3-point land.

Three of those “3s” came from Brittany Batts, who was perfect (3 of 3) from behind the arc and ended up with 13 points.

Junior guard Noelle Yoder came in to guard Batts after her hot start and gave her fits before senior guard Lindsay Tenyak came back in and did the same in the second half.

“I think Noelle kind of set a role model example for Lindsay and in the second half Lindsay was a seasoned veteran,” AU head coach Sue Ramsey said.

Despite Daugherty, Gerbec and junior guard Alyssa Miller all having to sit on the bench with two fouls near the end of the first half, the Eagles still made a run to keep it close at the break.

A large part of that was the leadership of Woods, who drained a 3-pointer with 53 seconds to go until halftime to cut the deficit to six.

“We had 100 percent confidence that (Woods) was gonna make the right calls, make the right decisions,” Ramsey said. “She doesn’t get tired very often.”

Woods continued firing in the second half, drilling back-to-back triples to tie the game at 33 with just over 17 minutes to play, and then a third less than a minute later that gave the Eagles their first lead at 36-35.

Woods was the only player in the game to play the full 40 minutes and she made all of them count.

“I thought Taylor Woods really showed up,” Gannon head coach Cleve Wright said. “I felt like she needed to show up tonight, and unfortunately for us she did.”

Miller found her jump shot not long after Woods, and three straight buckets by her widened the lead to 47-35. By the time Woods made a layup in transition, Ashland had a firm grip on the game with a 55-37 lead.

Miller finished with nine points, four assists and four rebounds.

Gannon attempted a comeback behind Doriyon Glass’s 17 points, but the closest it came the rest of the way was 64-52 with 3:50 left. The top two scorers for the Golden Knights this season, Jen Papich and Nettie Blake, had just four points each.

Ashland advances to play Western Washington, who beat Nova Southeastern, 80-76. The other two teams that advanced were Augustana (S.D.) and Dowling.