At every home game throughout the season, there has been a song entitled "Work hard, play hard" that booms from the speakers during timeouts of the Crowder women's basketball gamest at Bob Sneller Gymnasium, and there may not be a more fitting song to describe Tina Robbins' group.
Their work hard, play hard attitued had already guided the Lady 'Riders to the NJCAA National Tournament on March 18 entering Sunday's game, but it's now led them to a District K title as they fought off Northeast Community College, 75-70, in a fierce battle.
Win or lose, they were already going dancing in Salina, Kan., but that assurance didn't knock the Lady 'Riders off beat.
"We had our ups and downs," Robbins said. "I didn't think we played one of our better games today, but (the Lady Hawks) can attribute to that. The thing is, our kids just kept grinding away and they found a way to win in the end. They've been in this situation many times and, luckily, they don't panic, they stay composed."
Crowder (28-5) got off to a good start and built a 29-19 advantage with 6:49 to go in the first half. The Lady Hawks, however, would quickly answer as they rattled off a 9-0 run to make it 29-28.
The Lady 'Riders would push back in the final two minutes of the half and took a 37-31 lead into the break behind 11 points from Camila Lacerda and 11-of-12 shooting from the free throw line as a team in the half.
It was apparent neither team was going away in this one. The foes traded blows in the second half, with Northeast opening the half on a 7-0 run to take a 38-37 lead on a 3-pointer by Lexi Murphy with 18:17 on the clock. Crowder quickly regained the lead, but the Lady Hawks would draw even at 61 apiece on an Ivana Vuletic basket with 3:42 to go.
It was still far from over.
Crowder got a bit of breathing room, or so it thought, when Lacerda broke the tie on a 3-pointer with 3:31 left to make it 64-61. After some jockeying on the scoreboard, Raveen Murray hurled a dagger at the Lady 'Riders by burying a trey with 1:14 left to give Northeast a 70-69 lead.
Again, it was still far from over.
On Crowder's next possession, the Lady 'Riders missed a shot, but retained the ball, and on an inbounds play Terai Sadler scooted a pass to teammate Veronica Amos, who kissed a shot off the glass to make it 71-70. Needing a stop, the Lady 'Riders then got one off a missed shot with 31 seconds left. Sadler was fouled and then added a pair of free throws on a one-and-one with 18 seconds left to make it 73-70.
Page 2 of 2 - Desperately needing one more stop, that work hard, play hard attitude would rear its head again as Lacerda swatted a pass out of the air to teammate Caprese Marshall, who raced down court and scored on a layup.
It was finally over. Cue the music. Proceed dancing.
"This is huge for our program," Robbins said. "This is what we've been working hard for for six year. The goal when I came to this program six years ago was to get to the national tournament. This team is obviously reaping the rewards of that, but all of the classes that came before them laid the foundation for the type of program that we wanted to have here. Work hard, do things the right way and be successful in the classroom."
Despite being in foul trouble for most of the contest against a the much larger Lady Hawks' post players, Sadler still led the Lady 'Riders with 17 points. Lacerda and Marshall each followed suit with 16 points, while Amos added nine off the bench, Chloe Nichols and Seleena Neal had six and Dorian Briggs added five. Lacerda also had six rebounds and six assists, while Sadler, Nichols, Amos and Neal added five boards apiece. Marshall had four steals and Amos added three.
"(Terai) played, I think, about eight minutes in the first half, and she usually plays about 40 minutes a game, so it changed the complexion a little bit," Robbins said. "But we've had it all year where one person will be out for different things and we've had other people step up. That's why we're in the position we're in today."
Murphy led Northeast with 19 points, while Vuletic had 15, Jaylan Spencer 13, Alison Klostergaard eight, Murray six, Andrea Johnson five and Emily Gamble four.
The Lady 'Riders won't know who, or when they'll begin play in Salina until Monday. The only thing they're sure of is that when they get there they'll work hard, play hard.