T-Birds threaten, but No. 7 Seward County survives 83-78 nail-biter

Freshman guard Kelsi Mueller (left) fights for a lose ball
Freshman guard Kelsi Mueller (left) fights for a lose ball

CONCORDIA, Kansas — The 3-point line is an X-Factor, a potential game-changing line painted 20-feet, 9-inches from the basket.

On Wednesday, the Cloud County Community College women's basketball team gave No. 7 ranked Seward County Community College all it could handle for 40 minutes. But a rough second half from beyond the arc, and a few brief defensive lapses, spoiled the T-Birds' upset bid as Seward survived for an 83-78 win.

Cloud County (13-6 overall, 10-6 KJCCC) outshot the visiting Lady Saints (19-1 overall, 15-1 KJCCC) from the field, 48 percent to 41 percent. The T-Birds feasted off of dribble penetration and crisp interior passing against the Lady Saints' 2-3 zone, but were just 1-of-10 from 3-point distance in the second half, while Seward connected on 7-of-14.

"We did a lot of good things (Wednesday). We had some good production off the bench and we did a really nice job attacking Seward's (2-3 zone) interiorly," said Cloud County head coach, Brett Erkenbrack. "Our inability to hit 3-pointers in the second half and a couple of significant defensive blunders hurt us. I thought we competed pretty well. It's a tough loss."

Cloud County led by as many as 11 in the first quarter, and owned a 43-34 advantage at the half. Sophomore point guard Chelcie Kizart and sophomore Amaris Jones led the charge as Kizart scored eight of her 15 points in the first half, while grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. She finished with nine rebounds and five assists.

Jones, who scored a career-high 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, was on the receiving end on many of those assists. Jones and Cloud County exploited the middle of Seward County's 2-3 zone, forcing the Lady Saints' star 6-foot, 8-inch center Joanna Grymek to help on penetration and leaving dump down passes open around the basket.

In the second half, Seward County limited some of those short-corner looks for the T-Birds and were able to chip its way back into the game, taking its first lead with 3:32 remaining in the third quarter.

Cloud and Seward traded baskets much of the fourth quarter, and were even at 75-75 with 1:21 remaining following a mid-range jumper by sophomore forward Erin Alexander, who had a big night on both ends of the floor. She finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, three steals and four blocks, while defensively to limit Grymek to 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

After Alexander's basket to tie, though, Seward County took the lead for good the ensuing possession as Neidy Ocuane sank a straightaway 3-pointer with 1:03 remaining.

The T-Birds had one final chance to tie the score with seven seconds remaining, trailing 81-78, but Kizart couldn't convert on her drive to the basket, Cloud was forced to foul, and a pair of free throws from Brennyn Seagler iced the 83-78 final.

Freshman guard Kelsi Mueller joined Kizart, Jones and Alexander in double-figures with 11 points and added a team-high six assists.

Cloud County's bench outscored Seward County 18-4, led by nine points from freshman Kennedy Gay. She added five assists and three rebounds in her 16 minutes, as well.

The T-Birds will stay home the rest of the week and look to bounce back at 6 p.m. on Saturday when they host Pratt Community College (5-15 overall, 4-11 KJCCC).

The 3-point line can be an X-Factor, a potential game-changing line painted 20-feet, 9-inches from the basket.