SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Seventeenth-ranked Cardinal Stritch University (Wis.) never backed down from the top-ranked Concordia University women’s basketball team. A flurry of treys and the toughness inside of Wolves star Kelli Schrauth gave legitimate hope to an upset bid. But Bulldog star Taylor Cockerill had a little something up her sleeve. She led the charge with the season on the line and Concordia turned away Stritch, 82-71, in the second round of the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship on Friday (March 8).
Thirteenth-year head coach Drew Olson’s squad took the Wolves’ best shot. Cockerill and company were determined not to let the ride end so soon. The Bulldogs will enter the national quarterfinals at 32-3 overall.
“I thought we just did a good job of keeping our composure,” Olson said. “Stritch was doing a good job against our zone so we switched it up a little and played man. I thought it was a good switch, but ultimately it was our pressure and our pace that got to them. We do such a good job of playing so hard that it kind of wears teams down.”
Chasing around Cockerill for a 40-minute game is plenty enough to wear on even a worthy competitor. With Philly Lammers in foul trouble and Schrauth playing a physical game in the post, Concordia needed someone on the perimeter to emerge. Allow the Waverly High School product to introduce herself. Cockerill knocked down her side’s biggest shot yet this season after it had trailed by five in the fourth quarter. Her 3-pointer with 8:51 left seemed to flip a switch.
Consider Cockerill forgiven for two missed free throws to open the period. She went on to pour in 19 of her game high 26 points in the fourth quarter. This time of year tends to bring out the best in fierce competitors like Cockerill. She drilled another trey at the 5:59 mark and then another at the 4:26 mark. By that time it was a double-digit lead and the Bulldogs had restored order.
“We all play together and we know that sometimes people get hot and we try to feed them,” Cockerill said. “My teammates did a great job of getting me open when I was hot.”
In the fifth meeting all-time between these two programs at the national tournament, Cardinal Stritch made Concordia fight through some tense moments. The Wolves (24-10) put together a 12-2 run that began with a pair of triples from Kara Shimko late in the third quarter. Stritch pushed the Bulldogs for 40 minutes by sinking 7-of-11 tries from 3-point range and by shooting 54.2 percent from the floor. Schrauth posted 22 points and 15 rebounds.
Concordia just has too many ways to beat you. The gnat-like pressure is relentless and the offensive options are plentiful. In this outing, Quinn Wragge recorded 16 points and three steals while moving into the top five of the program’s all-time scoring list. Lammers added 16 points and five rebounds in a battle with a fellow All-American in the post.
“Philly and Quinn are such dominant players that people do look at them, but TC is someone who can really create her own shot,” Olson said. “When she gets going, she’s had some really big games this season.”
The 26 points were a national tournament high for Cockerill. She helped pull the Bulldogs out of an offensive quagmire of a second quarter. Concordia shot just 32.4 percent in the first half before heating up to 50 percent over the final 20 minutes. Colby Duvel added seven points off the bench while Grace Barry and Riley Sibbel chipped in six apiece.
The biggest shortcoming for Stritch was a 26-10 disadvantage in the turnover count. Alaina Beimborn (13), Brittany Kaltenberg (11) and Shimko (10) all reached double figures for the Wolves.
This one will be remembered for a long time for Cockerill’s role as the hero. Added Olson, “She’s such a tough kid and great competitor. When the team needs something, she’s there to step up.”
The Bulldogs will quickly turn around and take on seventh-ranked Indiana Tech (29-3) at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the national quarterfinals. The Warriors reached this point with national tournament wins over West Virginia University Tech, 73-63, and over Eastern Oregon University, 61-57.
Listen to the game here.