Merle Wiehl and Tishara Morehouse combined for 41 points and the Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team punched their ticket to the NJCAA national tournament by claiming the Region IX title with a 65-60 win over Casper College Saturday at Cougar Palace.
The win gives the Cougars the automatic berth into the national tournament in Lubbock, Texas, March 18-23 unlike last year where the Cougars had to wait to see their name called as an at-large team.
The pairings and seeds for the national tournament will be released Monday at 9 a.m.
“I feel extremely happy, satisfied that we got it done this year,” Wiehl, who earned all-region and all-tournament honors after the game, said. “This team is so incredible. We play together. We play hard. We play aggressive. Everyone was on the same page. We didn’t shoot great tonight, especially me, but we found a way to get it done so know we get to go to Texas.”
Eva Langton, a sophomore starter who pulled down five rebounds and was instrumental on defense, said it is feels great to be going to nationals as a champion.
“It is crazy and pretty surreal right now,” Langton, the wing player from New Zealand, said. “It is what we have been working for. All the hard work and hours we have put in; it all paid off. It has been our goal from the getgo to go to Lubbock. We are excited.”
On a night that neither team shot well, it was the team that got the last run and the Cougars accomplished that to get their 14th Region IX title in Cougar women’s basketball history.
“It wasn’t our best shooting game, but we found another way to win it and that is what is important,” Langton said. “Casper is always a tough game for us and they definitely played a great game.”
Casper jumped out first to a 5-0 lead only watch R’Manie Pulling score eight of the team’s first 10 points to put WNCC up 10-9. Casper came back to score the final five points of the opening quarter for a 14-13 lead.
The second half was evenly played as WNCC held a 6-point lead, 27-21, only to watch Casper score the final five points to send the two teams tied at 28 into the locker room.
The third quarter proved to be the difference. Casper jumped out to a 34-28 lead before WNCC went on a nice run behind eight points from Morehouse to put WNCC up 39-34. Wiehl hit a 3-pointer to put the Cougars up nine, 46-37. WNCC led after three periods 46-39.
The second half saw the Cougars lead by 15 pints on a Pulling 3-pointer at 58-46. Casper strung together a couple back-to-back buckets and got themselves back into the ballgame. WNCC went up 62-54 with about a minute to play. Casper hit back-to-back 3-pointers to bring the Thunderbirds to within two, 62-60.
Taylor Jopliin nailed one of two free throws with 16 seconds to play for a 63-60 lead. The Cougars defense picked up, stopping the Casper and Wiehl hit two free throws to put the Cougars up by five.
Wiehl said the run that they had in the third quarter to answer Casper’s opening run was huge.
“That was important,” she said. “It was a game of runs and we knew they would go on a run. They are a great team and they would make some tough shots but we also know what we are capable of. I am happy and proud of the whole team.”
Neither team shot the ball well. WNCC shot just 30 percent from the field and connected on 11 of 35 3-pointers. Casper wasn’t much better, shooting 34 percent from the field and making 4 of 17 from beyond the arc.
WNCC had three players in double figures. Wiehl led the way with 21 points including five treys and four rebounds. Morehouse finished with a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. She also dished off four assists. Pulling also tallied 13 points on three 3-pointers.
Casper was led by Lucie Hoskova’s 29 points and 13 rebounds. Nerea Baena also had a double-double of 15 points and 17 rebounds.
Four Cougars and three Thunderbirds made the all-tournament team. WNCC members include Wiehl, Taylor Joplin, Allysah Boothe, and Andrijana Reljic. Casper all-tournament players included Hoskova, Maggie Justinak, and Jaye Johnson.
Other members of the all-tournament team included Tashika Burrell and Alexsandra Ratnikava of Northeastern Junior College; Haylie Anderson of Laramie County; MaKenna Bodette of McCook; Alessia Capley of Otero; Emily Buchanan and Abril Rexach Roure of Eastern Wyoming; and Lani Taliauli of Sheridan.
WNCc also had three all-region players in Wiehl, Morehouse and Joplin, while Reljic was named to the all-region defensive team.
Third-year head coach Chad Gibney was named the South Coach of the Year.
Casper 14 14 11 21 – 60
WNCC 13 15 18 19 – 65
Raguel Ferrer-Bernad 4, Nerea Baena 15, Maggie Justinak 9, Jaye Johnson 3, Lucie Hoskova 29.
Tishara Morehouse 20, Merle Wiehl 21, Allysah Boothe 3, Andrijana Reljic 1, R’Manie Pulling 13, Yuliyana Vakcheva 3, Taylor Jopllin 4.