Survive and advance: Eagles avoid upset


Bree Gannon

Noah Cloonan

The unofficial motto in the month of March on the basketball court is “survive and advance” and the Ashland women’s basketball team did just that as they end Montana State University Billings’ Cinderella story with a 91-73 win.

The win sends Eagles to 35-0 on the season and back into the Final Four for the second straight season.

Both teams got off to slow starts but it was MSUB who grabbed a 4-3 lead after a lay-up from Vanessa Stavish. The lead was short lived for the Yellowjackets as Ashland stormed back in front with a 13-4 run to capture a 16-8 lead with 3:33 left in the first quarter.

The Eagles led 22-18 at the end of one.

Ashland shot just 38.9% from the field in the first but overcame the uncharacteristic shooting performance in the second quarter shooting a blazing 61.1% and outscoring the Yellowjackets 28-22.

The teams went back and forth for the majority of the second as any time Ashland started to make a run, the Yellowjackets would answer, and they did so in the form of redshirt senior forward Alisha Breen.

Breen was terrific for MSUB and was the only reason the Yellowjackets were able to keep pace in the first half as she had 15 points and six rebounds in the first half.

Breen and company had the Eagles in check as the Yellowjackets trailed by just five with 3:12 to go in the second quarter.

This was when Ashland went on their first major run of the game.

The Eagles rattled off seven straight points, capped off by a corner three from Maddie Dackin as they swelled the lead to 12 points, which was their largest of the first half.

MSUB was able to cut the deficit to just 10 points going into the locker room, but the Eagles led 50-40.

Assistant coach Tim Fralick said at the half that the Eagles needed to do a better job of rotating on the back side of their trap in the full court pressure and in the second half that is exactly what they did.

The Eagles came out of the locker room, looking like the team that led the nation in scoring this season as within a span of two minutes and 50 seconds, AU had seemingly blown the game open as a Laina Snyder layup made it a 61-42 game and forced a MSUB timeout.

In most games, a 19-point lead spells disaster for opposing teams, but not for this Cinderella story.

The Yellowjackets started to chip away at the Ashland lead as they applied pressure and started to force turnovers.

At one point in the third, the Eagles turned it over on three straight possessions and allowed MSUB to stay within striking distance as the lead hovered around 15.

That lasted only for a short time, however, as MSUB closed the third quarter on a 11-0 run to cut the lead from 18 down to just seven heading into the final quarter.

“They cut it to seven at one point in the second half and I thought we showed really good poise and toughness down the stretch and went on a run,” Fralick said.

AU responded right out of the gate in the final period as they scored the first seven points to swell the lead back to 14 and the Yellowjackets were unable to recover.

The Eagles started to pile it on and a deep triple from Dackin with 3:32 left in the game gave AU a 21-point lead and broke the glass slipper that Montana State University Billings had worn for seven straight games.

It was a magical run for MSUB, but they ran into the hottest team in Division to history and become yet another victim of Ashland’s 72-game winning streak as the Eagles won 91-73.

“The way we play, we just have to stick with it and I thought we did that well,” Fralick said. “ I thought in the first half we got going and then to begin the second half. I thought we really had a great starts which really gave us some momentum.”

Breen finished with a game-high 25 points on 9-20 shooting. She also grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out eight assists. Breen will leave MSUB as the conference’s all-time leading scorer.

Unfortunately for MSUB, they did not get enough help from Breen’s supporting cast as Stavish finished with 15 points and the team’s second leading scorer on the year, Rylee Kane, had just 10.

Ashland, on the other hand, was more well balanced and got contributions from all over the floor.

Snyder led the way with 22 points and 9 rebounds in 32 minutes. Senior counterpart, Andi Daugherty, was not far behind as she finished with 20 points and six rebounds in her 33 minutes on the floor.

National player of the year, Jodi Johnson was terrific on the defensive side of the floor as she finished with eight steals and made life tough on the guards for MSUB. She was no slouch on the offensive end either finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, four of which where offensive.

Sophomore guard Renee Stimpert continued her late season push as well with 14 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in what was the most well rounded Eagle performance of the day.

Beyond that Stimpert is the spark that helps to pace the Ashland offense.

“I think we played really well when we pushed the ball and the pace is fast. That’s been our style of play all year,” Stimpert said. “So I know that’s my job and the guards are running, the first posts touch really helps our offense. I’m just doing my job.”

The Eagles are back in the Final Four now for the second straight season and for the fourth time since 2012.

“We have a lot of people back from our championship team from last season and honestly, I think, our biggest enemy is ourselves. If we get into our own heads, that’s where a challenge occurs,” Daughert said. “That’s why I said we like to play fast and soon as Montana State scored, we want to score right back.”

Ashland will play the No. 5 seed Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the Final Four on Wednesday at 8:30 CST/ 9:30 EST.