By Matt Green
No. 1 Lady Hawks (16-11) vs. No. 2 Emmanuel (20-11)
Wednesday, March 6; 6 pm; Lakeland, Fla.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Shorter women's basketball team is one win away from a fourth straight trip to national tournament competition.
To get there, the Lady Hawks will have to take down a former nemesis.
Top-seeded Shorter will take to the court at 6 pm tonight in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) South Region Tournament championship game against second-seeded Emmanuel with a berth in the NCCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship on the line.
The Lady Hawks (16-11) advanced to tonight's title game with a 53-49 win over No. 4 seed and tournament host Southeastern University last night. Emmanuel, the defending NCCAA South Region champions, clinched a return trip to the regional final by downing third-seeded Southern Wesleyan, 69-58.
Shorter and Emmanuel will rekindle what developed into a rivalry over the past couple seasons, while Shorter was still a member of the NAIA and the Southern States Athletic Conference. Last season, the Lady Hawks beat Emmanuel in the SSAC Tournament third place game to secure the league's third and final automatic berth into the NAIA Women's Basketball National Championship where the Lady Hawks advanced to the Sweet 16.
A similar prize is on the line tonight for both teams, although the squads never met in the regular season this time around. Emmanuel placed fourth in the SSAC East Division while Shorter, playing for the first time as an NCAA Division II and Gulf South Conference member, placed fourth in their new league.
After being denied a trip the NAIA National Tournament by Shorter, the Lady Lions (20-11) defeated North Greenville 80-69 in last year's NCCAA South Region Tournament final and placed fifth at the NCCAA National Tournament.
Two standouts from last year's Emmanuel squad are back this year and performing at a high level once again. Guards Kaylyn Young and Joreshica Martin are the only two Lady Lions averaging double figures at 16.0 and 11.0 points per game, respectively.
The pair also combine to average 12.7 rebounds a game and have gotten to the free throw line a total of 289 times, a testament to Emmanuel's hard-nosed, physical style of play.
Emmanuel is outrebounding its opponents by over four boards a game while holding teams to 37 percent shooting.
The Lady Hawks are looking to bounce back from a scare in last night's semifinal win over Southeastern.
Shorter relied heavily on its bench in the win over the Fire, getting 31 of its 53 points from reserves. Freshman Madison Rice came off the bench to lead Shorter in scoring with a career high 13 points on 5 of 10 shooting which included a trio of 3-pointers, two of which helped Shorter build a big enough cushion in the closing minutes.
Chelsi Matthews, Maggie Peeples and Lynette Harris combined for 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting off the bench for the Lady Hawks, who also came out on the winning end thanks to a signature, stingy defensive performance that allowed just 31 percent shooting by Southeastern in addition to forcing 13 turnovers.
Continue to check www.goshorterhawks.com for updates concerning live stats and/or video, if provided by Southeastern.