Eagles get Revenge: Keep dancing to the Elite Eight

Noah Cloonan

Senior Kelsey Peare held the ball high in the air as the clock hit triple zeros inside Kate’s Gymnasium on Monday night as the Ashland University Women’s basketball team secured a spot in the Elite Eight with a 74-62 win over the Drury Panthers.

Moments later, head coach Robyn Fralick scaled the ladder for the second time this season as she cut down the final piece of the net and hoisted it high to the applause of the hundreds of fans that remained from the largest crowd of the season.

The 1,875 in attendance were treated to a March Madness thriller as Drury grabbed an early 4-0 lead and quieted the crowd at the start. 

After a Laina Snyder layup, Peare nailed a three from the wing and the crowd erupted as AU grabbed their first lead of the game and it turned out to be a lead that the Eagles never relinquished.

Both teams struggled to get things going offensively in the first half as the first quarter ended with AU on top, 16-11. AU and Drury both shot just 35% from the floor in the first period of play.

The second quarter brought a back and forth battle as Drury battled back to tie the game at 24 after GLVC Freshman of the Year, Hailey Diestelkamp got a layup to go with 2:34 left to play in the half. 

The Eagles responded with a freshman barrage of their own as Jodi Johnson hit a three that was followed by a signature Renee Stimpert floater in the lane, that gave AU a 29-24 lead going into the break.

Moment carried over into the second half for AU as Johnson got into the lane and was fouled to start the half. She knocked down both free throws and after a missed shot by the Panthers, the Eagles found Peare open on a wing and she nailed a three to give AU a 35-24 lead.

 Drury battled their way back into the game and cut the lead to 45-44 with 2:49 left in the third.

11 seconds later Maddie Dackin canned a three from the right wing to put the Eagles up by four and they started to pull away. 

The Eagles closed the quarter on a 5-0 run and increased the lead to 55-46 going into the final quarter.

 Much like the first three quarters, Drury started to work their way back into the game as they cut the lead to seven with just over three and a half minutes to play, but that is as close as the Panthers would get. 

AU made six free throws in the final minutes as they solidified their spot in Columbus and extended their school record winning streak to 34 games.

 “Last year we had to sit here and watch somebody else cut down our nets, and that’s really motivating,” head coach Robyn Fralick said. “That’s something we took and knew we wanted to be different this year.” 

It was the same matchup on the same floor and this year the Eagles got the better of the Panthers and they did so in large part to the production of Johnson, the GLIAC Freshman of the year. 

Johnson finished the game with a team high 15 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. She hit 8-11 free throws, many of which came in the second half to send the Eagles to the next round. Johnson along with Daugherty and Snyder were named to the All-Regional tournament team for their performances over the weekend.

“I know how bad this whole team wanted this win and knowing the history from last year when they lost to Drury in the regional semifinals definitely made it a big win and we want this this year. This is just such a special team,” Johnson said.

Daugherty finished with nine points and six rebounds, while Snyder scored 11 points and pulled down a game high nine rebounds.

With a bucket in the fourth quarter, Snyder scored her 1,500th career point as an Eagle. 

Despite shooting under 40% from the field and turning the ball over 18 times, the Eagles were able to “survive and advance.”

“We made a lot of mistakes the game was not perfect, but we played really hard and this team has been really special this whole season,” Fralick said. I’m really proud of them.”

 The work is not done yet for AU as they still need three more wins to complete the first undefeated season in AU history.

Ashland will play on March 21 against an opponent that is to be determined.