SSU's women's team, ranked No. 9 in the NAIA Division II poll, rolled over the AMC champion and No. 3-ranked Lady Jackets 76-54 Saturday afternoon. The men's team faltered down the stretch of a back-and-forth-battle, falling 74-60 to No. 16-ranked Cedarville.
In the early contest, SSU took the only lead it would need with 3-pointers by Whitney Williams, Abby Ballman and Williams again in a two-minute stretch, putting the Bears ahead 23-17. SSU went on to lead 38-27 at halftime. The Bears went on to outscore Cedarville 38-27 in the second half, as well.
"Once you start hitting some shots and things go well, you start to get a little extra energy that you don't know that you really have," SSU head coach Robin Hagen-Smith said. "I think we were going on adrenaline for a while because we played such a good first half... It got even better in the second half because (we) just dominated."
Williams, who tied an SSU record for 3-pointers in a game with eight Friday night, drained five Saturday en route to a game-high 17 points. Mallory Albers added 16, while Jill Cropper and Ballman pitched in with 15 and 14 respectively for SSU. Alex Pohl came off the bench and pulled down 11 rebounds.
The senior day contest was the last regular season home game for seniors Williams, Albers and Alison Meyer.
"It just feels so great for it to be senior night and everything," Williams said. "We really wanted to at least win, but to win by 20 points. We didn't really expect to do that. We just came out and played as hard as we could and luckily we came out on top."
The three seniors have each been NAIA Scholar Athletes the last two years, and two (Albers and Meyer) are 1,000-point scorers.
"I could coach those three forever," Hagen-Smith said. "That's just all there is to it. They're good people. They do things right on the court and off the court. They're two-time academic All-Americans and not just barely at 3.5. They're at the top of their class. It's unreal."
The Bears continued their assault on the Lady Jackets, stretching their lead to as many as 30 points in the second half. SSU connected on 10 of 20 3-pointers and held Cedarville to 3 of 20 from beyond the arc.
The victory is sweet for Williams, who had not started a game and played about 10 minutes per contest her first three years at SSU.
"It's been a ride," she said. "I can't believe I even stuck it out sometimes. There were a lot of times I wanted to just quit and just give it up but I'm so glad I didn't because this is what it's all about, just coming out on top and beating the No. 3 team in the nation."
Williams' coach agreed that the regular season finale was fitting for her senior, who could now reap the rewards of her hard work and dedication.
"She hadn't really gotten a whole lot of (playing) time..." Hagen-Smith said. "I know she wanted to quit, but she never did and now she's getting rewarded for that. I'm so glad she hung in there and stuck with it and we're all getting rewards from that."
The women's team will be at home again on Tuesday when it hosts a first round game of the AMC Tournament. SSU will know its opponent for that game this afternoon.
Saturday was the close to the men's season and the career for one senior, 2006 Green High School graduate Derek Lewis.
Lewis, who had taken the floor in 41 games previously got his first career start for SSU and played 14 minutes of the tight contest with Cedarville.
"It really felt good," Lewis said. "During my four years here, I haven't gotten a whole lot of playing time. But to go out on a high note like that and get a start in my last game felt good. It meant a lot."
Early on, SSU was strong as Ian Nixson scored 15 first-half points while the Bears and Yellow Jackets played almost even through halftime. Nixson and Tyler Morgan each scored 21 points, good for a game-high, but also for 70 percent of the Bears' offense.
"Nixson, in the first half, really had it going," SSU head coach Jeff Hamilton said. "We've just got to have some more guys shoot it. We go 2-for-13 from 3-point range, and that's the difference in the ball game. They're 7 of 20, we're 2 of 13."
SSU fell behind by as many as six points early in the second half, but was able to hang around and re-claim the lead twice with less than 10 minutes to play. The Jackets, however, would outscore SSU 15-3 over the game's last 3:30 to leave Portsmouth victorious.
"This was kind of a microcosm of our year," Hamilton said. "I think, with this game and the Walsh game, you can see where we are. We're close enough to compete with those teams, which are two elite teams. But at some point, you have to decide that you need some more at the end of the game."
The end of the game marked the end of four years in Shawnee blue for Lewis, a two-time scholar athlete with a 3.96 GPA. He plans to move to North Carolina and put his Game Simulation Development degree to work after his graduation this spring.
"Being a part of this program with Coach Hamilton and all the guys who have helped me along my way, words can't describe how much they've helped me," he said. "I really appreciate everything they've done for me... It's been a pleasure. I've been given so many opportunities and I can't thank everyone enough for them."
CHRIS DUNHAM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.