Hutch women reach title game

SALINA - For the second time in three seasons, the Hutchinson Community College women's basketball team will play for a national championship.
Mired in desperate foul trouble on Friday night - eventually losing Briana Starks and leading scorer Jamie Patrick to fouls - the Lady Dragon bench players came up huge and helped propel No. 3 Hutchinson to a 78-71 victory over second-seeded Chipola College in the semifinals of the 2014 NJCAA Women's Division I National Tournament at the Bicentennial Center.
Now 35-0, the Lady Dragons will get a rematch of the 2012 national championship game with top seed and No. 1 ranked Trinity Valley (35-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Cardinals devoured Central Arizona 82-63 in Friday's first semifinal on Friday.
"It feels great to have another shot to play in this game," said HCC head coach John Ontjes, whose team tied a school record for winning streaks with their 36th consecutive victory. "We played in it two years ago and it's difficult to get in that game. I'm thrilled to get an opportunity tomorrow night."
After two slow starts and come-from-behind victories to open the tournament, the Lady Dragons played a near-flawless first half in building a 38-17 lead. The lone flaw came in the form of Patrick, HCC's leading scorer who picked up her third personal foul with 11:15 remaining in the opening half.
That's where the bench started to pick up for HCC.
Freshman Chelsea Dewey scored seven first half points, hitting a floater in the lane and later sinking a baseline 3-pointer to help HCC build a 24-7 lead with 7:38 to play in the opening half.
Then it was freshman Sydney Benoit's turn. With Chipola primed for a second-half rally, Benoit scored seven of her career-high-tying 10 points in the second half. Benoit had three offensive rebounds, converting them into four second-chance points.
All told, the Lady Dragon bench produced 35 points and it helped HCC out-score Chipola 19-10 with Patrick on the bench.
"Our reserve kids had huge minutes, huge plays," Ontjes said of the bench players. "Those kids came through when we needed them. I think all of our kids are up to the challenge when their name is called. They played with confidence and did what they needed to do to help us win the game."
Added Benoit: "I just came off the bench and get rebounds and score when I could. We had some people in foul trouble, so we had to step up there and take their spot. Jamie's a big part of our team, so it's kind of nerve-racking, but we all just tried to step up and fill her roles."
Friday's second semifinal was two completely difference halves between Hutchinson and Chipola (33-2).
The first half was all Lady Dragons as they shot 66.7 percent (16 of 24) and limited their turnovers to six. HCC's No. 5 nationally ranked defense, flummoxed the Indians, holding them to a season-low 17 points by forcing 12 turnovers and holding Chipola to 7 of 24 overall shooting (29.2 percent). HCC had leads as large as 22 points and led 38-17 at halftime.
Turnovers and fouls became an issue for Hutchinson in the final 20 minutes. HCC had four turnovers on its first five possessions of the second half and Chipola started to chip away at the large deficit. The Dragons had 14 second-half turnovers that led to 15 Chipola points.
Also, the Indians started to cash in on offensive rebounds to the tune of 14 second-chance points. The Lady Dragons lost Starks to fouls with 7:42 to play and Patrick fouled out of a game for the first time this season with 2:33 remaining and HCC holding a 66-56 lead.
"They hit shots at the end with our hands in their face," Dewey said. "We knew they were going to run off double screens to get their 3-point shooters open. It was a little nerve-racking, but we hit our free throws."
Chipola wouldn't relent and kept inching closer and closer, making it a one possession game at 74-71 on a Rahni Bell 3-pointer with 30.5 seconds left. Hutch hit 20 of 26 second-half free throws to punch its championship game ticket, hitting 7 of 8 from the stripe in the final 90 seconds of the game.
"We just remained calm, stayed focused and hit our free throws," said Jen'Von'Ta Hill, who was 8 of 8 from the line in the second half.
"It was good we had our 20 point lead in the first half," Benoit said. "We just tried to maintain what we were doing and not freak out when they got close to us."
One night after setting the Lady Dragon career scoring record, Patrick on Friday became HCC's single-season scoring record holder, surpassing Natasha McAtee (1992). Despite the foul trouble, Patrick had a game-high 19 points, hitting 8 of 12 field goals, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Patrick played 24minutes, 27 seconds.
Purcell posted her third-straight double-double and 18th of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds. She was 5 of 9 shooting and a solid 8 of 11 from the foul line. Purcell added six assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Hill was 8 of 10 overall from the line and finished with 16 points, five rebounds and five assists. Hill tied Ellington Spears (1989-91) for second on the career assists list with 320 assists.
The Lady Dragons shot 56.8 percent (25 of 44) from the field, hitting 4 of 9 from 3-point range and 24 of 34 from the free-throw line. Hutchinson outrebounded Chipola 37-33 and survived 20 turnovers to advance to the title game.
Briana Wright had a double-double and scored 10 of her 13 points in the final 10 minutes of the game for Chipola. She also had 12 rebounds. Taliah Moore had 15 points, Evelyn Akhator had 12, Tiffany Lewis had 11 and Khadijah Ellison had 10 points for the Indians.
Chipola shot 37.1 percent (23 of 62), hitting 8 of 28 from 3-point range and 17 of 24 from the free-throw line.
With the victory, Hutchinson captured its 850th all-time victory. Now on Saturday, the Lady Dragons bid for the program's first national championship and sixth national title overall. HCC hasn't won a national team championship since 2001 when it won a women's cross country national crown.
GAME NOTES - HCC is now 2-2 all-time in national semifinal games and 13-6 overall in the NJCAA Tournament. … The Lady Dragons are 29-8 vs. ranked competition under head coach John Ontjes. … HCC ties the 2011-12 Lady Dragons with a record 36-game winning streak. … Jamie Patrick is now No. 2 in career field goals (395) and third in single-season field goals (226). … Jen'Von'Ta Hill moved into a tie for seventh on the single-season free throws with Katie Tedder (202) with 116. She is alone in fourth in single-season steals with 98. … Kalan Purcell is now No. 3 in single-season blocks with 48. … The 2014 sophomore class won their 71st game all time, which is second. … HCC is 14-0 when shooting 50 percent this season. … This was Purcell's 21st double-figure rebounding game. HCC is now 5-0 all-time vs. the state of Florida.
Head Coach John Ontjes
On HCC's first half defense on Chipola …
"We guarded the post extremely well and tried to make their shooters put the basketball down on the floor and play us off the dribble. By shooting 66 percent in the first half, they were taking the ball out of the net about every possession which allowed us to get our defense set."
Freshman Sydney Benoit
On teammates ChelseaDewey …
"Chelsea passes the ball really well and takes care of the ball. When she can, she can drive. She played a really good game tonight."
On hitting two late clutch free throws …
"It was a little bit. I just tried to focus and keep calm while I shot them."
Sophomore Jen'Von'Ta Hill
On HCC's foul trouble …
"We had to step up. One player is down and the rest have to step up to the spot."
On how the bench played …
"They are young and haven't been in this position before. They have looked up to us and followed in our footsteps. Teams kind of sleep on them and they go for it."
Freshman Chelsea Dewey
On HCC's first half defense on Chipola …
"We just contained and made sure their shooters didn't get open looks. We really dug down deep on their post players so they couldn't kick out and get shots."
On Jamie Patrick's foul trouble …
"Jamie's a big scoring threat, but everyone else picked up the slack when she had to sit on the bench."
On HCC's play of the bench…
"Kalani keeps a lot of points going for us. Sydney does good offense and defense and the entire bench continues."