LARGEST POSTSEASON COMEBACK EVER POWERS LADY DRAGONS INTO FINAL FOUR
SALINA - One night previous, Tyler Junior College buried No. 6 College of Southern Idaho with 70 percent shooting and 64 points in the first half en route to 102 points and a 21-point victory.
On Thursday, the Apaches had an 18-point stranglehold on the No. 3 Hutchinson Community College women's basketball team just 6 minutes, 55 seconds into their in the NJCAA Division I Women's Basketball National Tournament quarterfinal matchup at the Bicentennial Center.
Backed by numerous tremendous individual efforts and a strong defensive effort in the final 20 minutes, the Lady Dragons completed the largest postseason comeback in team history to advance to the NJCAA Final Four for the third-straight season, rallying to defeat Tyler 87-77. The Lady Dragons have now won 35 consecutive games dating back to last season's national tournament.
The third-seeded Lady Dragons (34-0) will meet No. 2 seed Chipola College (33-1) at 8 p.m. on Friday in the second national semifinal. Top-seed Trinity Valley and fifth seed Central Arizona will play in the first semifinal.
"We stayed the course and again didn't get off to a very good start, but we never got rattled or panicked at all and gradually chipped away at the lead," said HCC head coach John Ontjes, whose largest comeback at HCC was 20 points against Marshalltown in 2009. "Once we got it, we took care of the basketball and made free throws."
"They got off to a great start," said sophomore Jamie Patrick, who became the Lady Dragons' career scoring leader on Thursday night surpassing Heather Robben. "(Melena Washington) is a great player. She started off knocking down some 3s and our shots weren't falling. We had so much time left. We knew we had to keep calm and stay in the game."
This was the second-straight come-from-behind victory for HCC in the 2014 national tournament. On Wednesday, Hutchinson trailed Northern Oklahoma-Enid 58-53 with 2:05 remaining in the game and rallied to win 77-68 in overtime. Thursday's comeback against Tyler had 33 minutes to develop.
Tyler's Melina Washington came off the bench to score 13 early points as Tyler built a 22-4 lead with 13:05 remaining in the opening half. HCC's collective legs were wobbly from the tough start, but two Kalani Purcell buckets on back-to-back possessions seemed to settle the Lady Dragons. Then Purcell dropped a rainbow 3-pointer from deep on the right side, the HCC deficit was much more manageable at 28-16 with 7:42 to play in the half.
"We had a really bad start." Purcell said. "We couldn't finish and our shots weren't falling. All of their shots were dropping and they were getting to the rim and getting easy fouls on us that we shouldn't have done. It really wasn't a good start. Coach kept telling us to keep our composure and keep calm and stay with it."
When Washington scored with 5:25 to go in the first half, Tyler led 32-20. That turned out to be Tyler's final field goal of the opening half. The Apaches were shooting 63 percent until that juncture of the game. Meanwhile, the Lady Dragons continued their methodical comeback and trimmed 12 points off by halftime, trailing 39-33 at intermission.
Tyler's field goal drought lasted another 3:26 into the second half - 8:51 in total duration. HCC finally tied the game at 45-all on a Patrick 3-pointer with 15:35 to play. After Tyler's 22-4 start, HCC outscored the Apaches 41-23 to knot the game.
Victoria Kemokai hit a 3-pointer to give Tyler a 60-58 lead with 7:22 to go in the second half. The Lady Dragons answered with a 12-0 run over the next 3:10 to build a 70-60 lead with 4:11 remaining after a Jen'Von'Ta Hill layup. The Lady Dragons finished off the comeback by hitting 24 of 31 free throws in the second half, 13 of 16 in the final 3 minutes.
"You kind of get into a little panic mode, but the game's not over so it's not time to stop playing," Hill said of the comeback. "They came out hot and really fast and athletic, but we hung in there."
HCC had three players score 20 points each in a game for the first time this season.
Purcell had her second-straight double-double in the tournament and 16th of the year with a career-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. Purcell had two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Lost in the comeback was Patrick breaking the career scoring record. She surpassed Robben with her final two free throws of the game and now has 1,073 career points with two games remaining. Patrick finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
"It's an honor, but I'm ready to go to the Final Four and work for a team goal," Patrick said. "I didn't expect to come to Hutch to break that record, but it is an honor."
Hill finished with 20 points, four assists and five steals. Freshman Shakira Harding had 13 points.
The Lady Dragons shot 46.3 percent (25 of 54) overall, including 3 of 10 from 3-point range. HCC had season highs of 34 free throws on 45 attempts. HCC out-rebounded Tyler 36-35 and turned the ball over 18 times.
Washington led Tyler (30-6) with 20 points and five rebounds. Shernise Robinson had 16 points. Carolyn Ramirez had 11 and Kemokai had 10. The Apaches shot 43.9 percent (25 of 57), including 5 of 13 from 3-point range and 22 of 33 from the free throw line.
Tyler was the nation's No. 1 scoring offense at 92.1 points per game.
After shooting just 35.5 percent in the first half, the Lady Dragons figured out Tyler's defense and shot 60.9 percent (14 of 23) in the second half. Tyler turned the ball over 13 times and shot 12 of 30 (40.0 percent) in a second half where the Lady Dragons outscored Tyler 54-38.
GAME NOTES - The Lady Dragons are now 4-0 in NJCAA Tournament quarterfinal games. HCC is 12-6 overall in the NJCAA Tournament. Head coach John Ontjes won his 220th game at Hutchinson. He is now six victories shy of surpassing Tom Worthing as HCC's all-time winningest coach. Ontjes is now 28-8 vs. nationally ranked teams. HCC is 2-0 all-time vs. Tyler. In addition to becoming HCC's career scoring leader, Jamie Patrick is now No. 2 on the single-season scoring list with 591 points. She moved up to third in career field goals (387) and fourth in single-season field goals (218). Kalani Purcell became the second Lady Dragons - Ariella McGhee is the other - to have 350 rebounds in a season. Jen'Von'Ta Hill moves up to No. 5 in single-season assists (172) and tied Alysse Barlow for fourth in single-season steals (97). Purcell tied Derryn Jakobi for third in single-season blocked shots (47). HCC is now 4-0 when trailing at halftime. Patrick and Shakira Harding had nine free throws each. That is a new individual high for HCC this season. Patrick now has 13 20-point games.
Head Coach John Ontjes
On Jen'Von'Ta Hill's performance
"Jen had a huge challenge tonight on both ends of the floor. The kid that she was guarding had 28 points the night before and Jen was just phenomenal in covering (10) tonight. She had a gutsy performance on both end of the floor and making plays for our team. It was one of her best games of her career."
On Jamie Patrick becoming HCC's leading career scorer
"It's great for her being a Reno County kid to become our all-time leading scorer. It's a tribute to her to just what kind of kid she is. I'm proud to be able to look at that list and say I was able to coach such a great player like Jamie."
Sophomore Jamie Patrick
On HCC's foul trouble
"Once they got those fouls, coach kept rotating them in, but when they were in the game, they played extremely smart."
Sophomore Jen'Von'Ta Hill
On her defensive performance
"Tyler's guards were quicker than the game before, so it was just timing. I had to get my hand down there a little faster."
On free throws
"We know we can make free throws. We don't want any repeats from the previous season, so we have to make our free throws."
Freshman Kalani Purcell
On HCC's comeback
"It was really bad at the start. It was different, but after we weathered it out we started getting more of a feel and picking up our game. By the second half we were ready to win it."
On the standing ovation she received when she fouled out