SALINA, Kan. — When the Crowder Lady 'Riders walked into the locker room at halftime of Monday's NJCAA Division 1 National Tournament game against Redlands Community College, they watched as coach Tina Robbins calmly scribbled out a one-word game plan for them in the second half. It simply said, "RELAX."
The team laughed. It worked.
In the first half, Crowder looked like a team playing in the national tournament for the first time, missing some easy looks and turning the ball over. But in the second half, the Lady 'Riders looked like a team ready for the bright lights, and they wore Redlands down to pull out a 69-64 victory.
The No. 15 Lady 'Riders (29-5) advanced to take on No. 2 Central Arizona at 1 p.m. on Wednesday at the Bicentennial Center in Salina.
As they have done all season, the Lady 'Riders adapted and overcame some tough breaks on Monday. After leading, 14-10, midway through the first half, Crowder watched as the No. 18 Lady Cougars tore away on a 14-1 run to take a 24-15 advantage. After the second of two 3-pointers by the Lady Cougars capped the run, Robbins called timeout and, oddly, Redlands coach Jay Nieheus called another right as the Lady 'Riders broke to head back on the floor.
Perhaps that extra time gave Crowder the extra gasp of wind it needed as the Lady 'Riders came back on the floor and promptly closed the half on an 11-2 run of their own to tie it at 26 at halftime. The half ended on a huge push from Crowder's Dorian Briggs, who scored the final six points in the span of about a minute to tie it up.
"I think we started really slow," Crowder's Terai Sadler said. "I think nerves had a lot to do with it, we were all kind of shaky and nervous. But after the first half we weren't so nervous, so we came out a lot stronger.
"I think that's what makes us so good is that on any given night anyone can score and step up. Like tonight, everyone stepped up."
The Lady Cougars opened the second half with a bang as a 3-pointer from sophomore Kayla Pahcoddy made it 29-26 in the opening seconds. But that didn't spark the Lady Cougars like it would have in the first half. They eventually grew their advantage to 38-34, but the Lady 'Riders got a quick pair of baskets from sophomore Veronica Amos and then blew up as they took off on a 14-2 run to put themselves in front 46-40.
Redlands then answered with another 3-pointer, but Crowder responded with a 6-0 spurt to make it a nine-point game (52-43) midway through the second half.
They would extend that lead to 60-48 later in the half, and then held on as a late charge by the Lady 'Cougars, who actually cut it to a two-possession game on a jumper by Arielle Cooper (66-62), fell short as Crowder shot 5 of 8 from the free throw line in the final minute.
Page 2 of 2 - "I think about the first 15 minutes of the game we were just nervous," Robbins said. "We didn't play like we normally play. I thought once we relax we would be able to play the way we normally play, and I think they did that in the second half.
"We've talked about it all week coming in, the atmosphere and everything, but until you get out there and experience it you're going to have that nervousness. I think once they settled down they were finally able to start playing the way they're capable of playing."
Sadler led the team with 21 points and nine rebounds, but played exceptionally better in the second half after, as she admitted, she was able to calm her nerves at halftime. Sadler scored 13 points in the second half.
Caprese Marshall and Veronica Amos each finished with 14 points for Crowder, while Amos, who was a force off the bench on both sides of the ball, added 11 rebounds. Camila Lacerda chipped in six points, while Chloe Nichols, Megan Ritter and Seleena Neal all had two apiece.
As this team continues to fight on, Sadler assured that the Lady 'Riders weren't prepared to end their season on Monday.
"Oh no, we weren't done," Sadler said. "and we're still not done."