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To the title game: DWU fends off Saint Xavier to reach national championship

Dakota Wesleyan's Ashley Bray (20) grabs a rebound in front of Saint Xavier University's Chanel Fanter (12) during a game in the semifinals of the NAIA Division II National Tournament on Monday at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. (Matt Gade / Republic)

SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Only one game left.

The streak continued for the No. 7-ranked Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team at the NAIA Division II national tournament. In Monday’s semifinals, the Tigers outlasted No. 4-ranked Saint Xavier (Ill.) 81-66.

DWU closed the contest on a furious 19-4 run to win their fourth tournament game by double digits at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. DWU (31-6) will face Concordia for the fourth time this season in an all-Great Plains Athletic Conference championship at 7 p.m. today in Sioux City.

It’s the first time DWU has reached the title game since the 2002-03 season.

“We all wanted it so bad,” said junior point guard Rylie Osthus, who recorded her 1,000th point in the contest. “We just wanted it and played with all our heart. That was the main difference.”

Osthus was at the center of one the game’s biggest plays in the fourth quarter. After Saint Xavier’s Kara Krolicki picked up her fourth foul, DWU head coach Jason Christensen called for a play called “Pistol” to post-up Osthus on Krolicki. When Osthus got position and the ball, Krolicki tried to draw a charge but was called for a block, her fifth and final foul.

“I didn’t think she was going to foul. I thought she’d let Rylie get the two points,” Christensen said. “That was the key (play) of the game. You are taking the best player in the country off the floor. You could tell they were lost without her.”

Krolicki, who finished with 24 points, picked up four fouls in less than 6 minutes, including two fouls in the span of 18 seconds and fouled out with 2:48 left. With Krolicki out of the game, the Tigers took advantage and went on a 19-4 run to close the contest.

“We knew when she went out, it was important to take it to them,” said Kynedi Cheeseman, who scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and finished with a game-high 27 points. “It was a little easier for us on defense because she was their main player and scoring a lot.”

In a thrilling fourth quarter, Saint Xavier (32-3) took its first lead of the second half 57-56 on a 3-pointer by Maddie Wettler. The Cougars and Tigers would exchanged the lead four times, before Cheeseman capped a run of eight straight points with the go-ahead 3-pointer to put DWU up 65-62 with 6:24 left.

“Once we started to relax, things started coming easier for us on offense,” said Cheeseman, who went 8-of-13 from the field. “It helps that the entire Mitchell community comes and watches us. It’s a home court feeling.”

Along with Cheeseman, three other Tigers finished in double figures. Ashley Bray had 15 points, Osthus finished with 14 points and Amber Bray added 10 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double. Jessica Mieras added eight points off the bench and DWU won the rebounding battle in convincing fashion -- 43-20.

“They are thicker than we are,” Saint Xavier head coach Bob Hallberg said. “They really hurt us with offensive rebounds. When they get two or three (shots) per possession, that really beats you up. We’re not physical and that’s not our forte.”

Welter hit the game’s first 3-pointer to put Saint Xavier up 11-8 late in the first quarter. The Tigers struggled offensively in the opening quarter, shooting 23 percent from the field (4-of-17). Krolicki’s 3-pointer helped the Cougars close on a 8-0 run to lead 14-8.

“We were playing soft and tired,” Christensen said about the first quarter. “This point of the year, it’s not a lot about coaching. It’s about what the kids want to do. I thought our kids showed a lot of heart.”

The second quarter was a different story as DWU erupted for 29 points. Ashley Bray converted back-to-back 3-point plays to tie the game at 14, but Krolicki quickly answered with a 3-pointer of her own. DWU tied the game again at 22 after an Osthus jumper. Cheeseman recorded an old-fashioned, 3-point play to put DWU up 25-22 with 3:25 left in the first half. One more Osthus field goal, two Amber Bray 3-pointers and four Ashley Bray free throws put the Tigers up 37-32 at halftime.

Saint Xavier cut DWU’s lead down to two points four different times in the third quarter, including Krolicki’s 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the score 56-54 at the end of the frame.

Brittany Collins finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Cougars, while Chanel Fanter added 12 points and Welter tossed in eight points.

Dakota Wesleyan 81, Saint Xavier 66

Dakota Wesleyan (31-6): Chesney Nagel 0-5 0-0 0, Amber Bray 4-9 0-0 10, Ashley Bray 4-10 5-6 15, Meghan Travis 0-0 0-0 0, Riley Osthus 6-14 2-2 14, Sam Schuh 1-1 0-0 2, Mikaela Stofferahn 0-0 0-0 0, Sarah Carr 1-3 3-4 5, Kynedi Cheeseman 8-13 10-11 27, Makaela Karst 0-0 0-0 0, Jessica Mieras 2-2 4-4 8, Mateya Walder 0-0 0-0 0, Madison Mathews 0-0 0-0 0, Kacey Bartscher 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-57 24-27 81

Saint Xavier (32-3): Brittany Collins 4-8 5-5 13, Kara Krolicki 8-17 3-4 24, Tomei Ball 0-0 2-2 2, Emily Gorsch 0-1 0-0 0, Chanel Fanter 5-16 2-2 12, Cora Graffeo 0-0 0-0 0, Maddie Welter 3-8 0-0 8, Sidney Lovitsch 0-0 0-0 0, Janie McCloughan 0-0 0-0 0, Meg Knutson 0-1 0-0 0, Gabby Kreykes 3-4 1-1 7. Totals 23-55 13-14 66

SX 14 32 54 66

DWU 8 37 56 81

FG%: DWU .456, SXU .418. 3-pt FG: DWU 5-15 (Nagel 0-1, Bray 2-5, Bray 2-6, Osthus 0-1, Carr 0-1, Cheeseman 1-1), SXU 7-20 (Krolicki 5-9, Gorsch 0-1, Fanter 0-4, Welter 2-6). Rebounds: DWU 43 (Bray 11), SXU 20 (Collins 10). Fouls: DWU 13, SXU  21. Fouled out: Krolicki. Technical: none. Assists: DWU 15 (Cheeseman 5), SXU 10 (Collins 3). Steals: DWU 7 (Bray 4), SXU 8 (Collins 3). Blocked shots: DWU 1 (Osthus 1), SXU 4 (Fanter 2). Turnovers: DWU 14, SXU 12. Attendance: 6273.

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