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Vanguard stops Skylight magic

Skylights drop a Sweet 16 thriller to powerful Lions


March 20, 2017

Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Molly Kreycik drives into the lane during Friday night's NAIA Sweet 16 game against Vanguard University in Billings. The Skylights saw their incredible season end with a close, 71-65 loss to the Lions.

BILLINGS — The Montana State University-Northern Skylights had their sights set on a second trip to the Elite 8 in three years at the NAIA Women's Basketball Championship, but despite a hot start against Vanguard, in the end, it wasn't meant to be.

The No. 11 Skylights started the game on fire offensively, but cooled down from the field, especially in the second half in a 71-65 loss to No. 5 Vanguard (CA) in a second-round matchup at the NAIA national tournament Friday night in Billings at the Rimrock Auto Arena at the Metra.

"This group has done a great job," Northern head coach Chris Mouat said. "That was the only thing that I could tell them tonight, that I was proud of their effort. We got beat tonight. We hurt ourselves at times and they hurt us at times. But this has been an incredible run with a great group of kids that responded to every bit of adversity that came their way throughout the year and some throughout four years, and I am not really ready to say goodbye to them yet."

Facing, the second-seeded Lions, the third-seeded Skylights started fast and built an 8-3 lead after 3-pointers by Cydney Auzenne and Molly Kreycik. Auzenne made another triple minutes later after another make from deep by Natalee Faupel, Northern led 16-11 with 3:30 left in the opening stanza. However, a 10-4 run from the Lions gave them a 21-20 lead when the first quarter was over.

In the second quarter, Vanguard starting pounding away inside. But thanks to the stellar play of freshman Shiloh McCormick, MSU-N matched the Lions shot for shot. The freshman, who knows a thing or two about big games at the Metra, hit a trey to tie the game at 29-29. Then, she made another with the Skylights down four to make it 35-34 in favor of the Lions, who scored the last four points of the half to take a 39-34 lead into intermission.

"Shiloh had a good night," Mouat said of McCormick, who scored eight points in the second quarter. "She had a really good couple of days."

The Lions quickly pushed their lead to seven in the third quarter, but a trey from Kreycik, as well as another from McCormick, her third of the night, got MSU-N back within three at 45-42. But as the fourth quarter began, the Lions lead was five again at 51-46.

Down five, with 10 minutes to play, Northern turned to Faupel, its All-American, to get back into it and like she seemingly always does, Faupel delivered. She canned a triple to open the final stanza, trimming the lead down to two. After that, the Lions twice pushed their lead to eight and both times, Faupel answered with makes from beyond the arc.

The senior's last trey got the Skylights within five at 60-55, then two off the glass by Jacy Thompson and a free throw by Faupel, got Northern within two at 60-58, with just 3:15 to play in the game.

"I thought we came out and played Skylight basketball," Faupel said. "That's one thing that I was proud of. We never gave up, we just kept fighting."

Yet, the Lions followed up the Skylights 6-0 run, with a 6-0 spurt of their own and suddenly, Vanguard led 66-58 with less than a minute. Thompson hit a three to get MSU-N back within five and two free throws by Faupel with 29 seconds, got Northern within four, but it never got back to a one-possession game and the final margin of victory was six.

"I thought that our players gave it everything they had tonight (Friday)," Mouat said. "They (Lions) shot the ball extremely well. We just want to take this game for what it is. We gave a great effort and, of course, you want to win and we are disappointed, but in terms of overall effort, I think we gave it everything we had. That's what it's about ultimately and that's what we will have to look back on for this last game."

Faupel scored 21 points in her final game for the Skylights, while Kreycik, another senior closed out her career with 13 points and seven assists. McCormick added 11. The Lions got 15 points from Victoria Chea, 14 from Tania Uluhea and 11 from Maya Kennedy.

With the loss, the Skylights finished the season at 25-8, but notched at least one win at the national tournament for the third time in four years. Vanguard, on other other hand, advanced to the Fab Four along with fellow Frontier Conference team Lewis-Clark State. The semifinals in Billings will be played tonight, with the title game set for Tuesday.

"Our kids have done a great job," Mouat said. I am proud of our kids, I am proud of our team, I am proud of our program. Of course, we wanted to win tonight. But our program is at a good spot and I am proud of the kids and what they have given to it."

Fought to the end

Vanguard 71, Skylights 65

MSU-N 20 14 12 19 - 65

Vanguard 21 18 12 20 - 71

Colin Thompson

Northern's Sierra Richards left, fights for position during Friday night's NAIA Sweet 16 game in Billings.

VU - Maya KENNEDY 5-9 0-1 11, Hanna TABRON 1-1 2-2 5, Jaime GOFF 0-4 0-0 0, Alyssa DURR 2-4 2-4 7, Claire LAMUNU 3-6 3-4 9, Kandyce SMITH 3-6 2-2 8, Tania ULUHEA 6-7 2-2 14, Christiana GEROSTERGIOU 0-0 0-0 0, Victoria CHEA 5-9 4-4 15, Raechelle DAVIS 0-3 0-0 0, Gionni BLANKENSHIP 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 26-50 15-19 71.

MSU-N - Cydney Auzenne 2-8 3-5 9, Molly Kreycik 4-10 3-3 13, Natalee Faupel 7-15 3-4 21, Peyton Filius 0-2 0-0 0, Jacy Thompson 2-7 0-0 5, Katie Fertterer 0-2 0-0 0, Sierra Richards 3-5 0-2 6, Shiloh McCormick 4-7 0-0 11. Totals 22-56 9-14 65.

3-pt FG:Vanguard (Calif.) 4-9 (KENNEDY 1-3, TABRON 1-1, DURR 1-2, SMITH 0-1, CHEA 1-2), Montana State-Northern 12-30 (Auzenne 2-6, Kreycik 2-7, Faupel 4-6, Filius 0-1, Thompson 1-3, Fertterer 0-2, McCormick 3-5). Rebounds: Vanguard (Calif.) 31 (LAMUNU 9), Montana State-Northern 22 (Faupel 4). Fouls Vanguard (Calif.) 19, Montana State-Northern 15. Fouled out: TABRON Thompson .


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