RedStorm women claim RSC crown

RIO GRANDE — The atmosphere was fitting of a championship.

The game itself wasn’t half bad either.

The University of Rio Grande built a 16-point third quarter lead, but had to fend off a furious comeback attempt by Midway University in the final period for a 95-86 win over the Eagles in the River States Conference Women’s Basketball championship game — on Tuesday night at a rowdy Newt Oliver Arena.

Just over 1,300 vocal spectators saw the RedStorm — the tourney’s top seed overall and the No. 1 seed from the RSC’s East Division — win for the ninth straight time and for the 31st time in 33 outings this season.

The 31 wins represent a new single-season-high in the program’s history.

Midway, the league’s West Division champion, had a 10-game winning streak snapped — and slipped to 25-7 with the loss.

Both teams will advance to the NAIA National Championship Tournament, though, beginning March 11 at 16 sites across the country.

The 64-team tournament field and first-round pairings will be revealed on Thursday at 7 p.m. via the NAIA’s PlayNAIA Facebook page.

After a back-and-forth opening quarter, Rio Grande opened up a seven-point halftime advantage and then methodically stretched the lead to as many as 16 points, 64-48, following a layup by junior Hailey Jordan with 3:46 left in the third period.

Midway refused to fold its tent, though, and closed the gap to nine, 69-60, by the close of the period.

The Eagles maintained their momentum in the fourth quarter as well, and sliced the deficit down to just one point, 87-86, after a layup by Dezeree White with 1:28 left to play.

However, those would prove to be the final points scored by the visitors.

Rio Grande finished the game on an 8-0 run, with a pair of buckets by Jordan serving as bookends to four free throws by freshman Harlei Antritt.

Jordan, who was limited to a season-low eight points in Saturday’s semifinal round win over WVU-Tech, equaled a career-high with 29 points in the victory — 23 of which came after halftime.

She also finished with eight rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.

Three other Rio players also reached double figures in the win.

Freshman Kaylee Darnell of Wheelersburg scored 17 points, Antritt tallied 13 points and 10 rebounds and junior Ella Skeens — whose playing time in the opening half was limited due to foul trouble — tossed in 11.

The RedStorm also got a game-high 11 rebounds from freshman Aleea Crites, while senior Chyna Chambers had nine points to go along with a game-high seven assists and a game- and career-high four blocked shots.

Rio Grande finished 35-for-75 from the floor (46.7%) and 22-for-31 at the free throw line (71%), while enjoying a commanding 56-37 edge in rebounding.

Midway was 32-for-79 from the floor overall (40.5%), 8-for-24 from three-point range (33.3%) and 14-for-16 at the free throw line (87.5%).

White, who represented the Eagles on the All-RSC First Team, was a one-woman wrecking crew, scoring a game-high 35 points — including 21 in the second half.

She also had a team-best 10 rebounds, a game-high seven steals and a pair of blocked shots.

Jalyn Jackson tied a season-high with 17 points in a losing cause, while Talley chipped in with 15 points.