With the beginning of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout finally here, the motto for all teams is simple: survive and advance.
The Black Hills State University women did just that Tuesday night.
The No. 3 seed Yellow Jackets got the best punch from No. 6 seed Fort Lewis in the quarterfinal at the Young Center, but a last second 3-point attempt didn't go for the Skyhawks and BHSU advanced 59-56.
"It's awesome, we want to keep moving on," Yellow Jacket coach Mark Nore said. "I feel like we have a team that can do some things. It's a great feeling."
With the win, the Yellow Jackets, 23-6, will head to Denver to face No. 2 seed Metro State-Denver, 21-7, in the RMAC semifinals Friday after the Roadrunners' 71-58 victory over No. 7 seed Colorado Mesa.
The story of the game was the defense of both teams, forcing tough shots on both ends of the floor. For awhile, however, it seemed like even the easy shots weren't falling for both teams.
BHSU ended the game 19-of-59 for 32.2 percent from the floor while Fort Lewis wasn't any better, going 17-of-53 for 32.1 percent.
"It was a really physical game tonight," Nore said. "I think when you look out there, both teams were just dog tired. We just had to grind it out. I thought we hit some timely buckets. Rachel Erickson hit some big buckets, Lyndzi (Rich) had a big second half for us. Defensively we got it done."
During the first three minutes of the first quarter, both teams traded baskets as the game worked itself to a tie at seven. After that, the cold spell started.
Both teams couldn't hit a shot from the field until inside of four minutes remaining, when a 3-pointer from Fort Lewis’ Briana Clah gave the Skyhawks the lead.
Fort Lewis would maintain the lead, and at the end of the first quarter held a 16-11 edge.
Both teams stayed cold from the field, and free throws became the only way the scoreboard would change. Through five minutes, BHSU was the only team to make a field goal, but Fort Lewis still led 20-19 after going 4-of-4 from the line.
Erickson, who finished with a game-high 19 points on 5-of-16 shooting, said that despite the poor shooting throughout the game, the defense is what stood tall in helping BHSU advance.
"Honestly, I think at that point I was taking shots early in the shot clock that I probably shouldn't have," she said. "You get caught up I guess, but I think we did a really good job of turning it back on to the defensive side and just playing our game, because that's what were based on, that's what Nore harps day-in and day-out.
"Even if the ball isn't falling, we're going to make sure that their ball isn't falling either."
The Yellow Jackets also had success from the charity stripe, going 8-of-10 in the second quarter and 15-of-18 for the game.
Towards the end of the half, BHSU started having success feeding the ball inside to Rich, and with 2:44 remaining, took a 26-25 lead after consecutive trips down the floor with made field goals.
Rich finished the game with 14 points.
Still, Fort Lewis was able to hit two more free throws and go into the locker room leading 27-26.
BHSU continued to get the ball to Rich in the third quarter, but the story was still the Yellow Jackets’ effort defensively. BHSU held the Skyhawks to 10 points in the quarter and opened up a 41-37 lead with 10 minutes to go.
Early in the quarter, the Yellow Jackets opened up a 48-39 lead. Whenever Fort Lewis would try to mount a comeback, BHSU would sink a 3-pointer to extend the lead, and with 2:52 remaining, the Jackets gained their first double digit lead of the day at 54-44.
That was when the lid came off the basket for Fort Lewis.
Trailing by eight, the Skyhawks went down the floor and Shelby Patterson hit a 3-pointer to make it 58-53 with 27 seconds left. Coming out of a timeout, Julia Seamans had the ball stolen by Vivian Gray, who knocked down another 3-pointer with only 16.8 seconds left.
All of a sudden, BHSU's lead was only 58-56.
"Being up eight and having that situation, we got a little bit careless," Nore said. "It was a good situation to be in for us, I didn't like it at the time, but it's definitely a teachable moment."
Erickson was fouled on the inbounds play and sent to the line, where she missed her first attempt, but hit the second put the Yellow Jackets up three with 14 seconds left.
This was the time where Erickson said she knew the Yellow Jackets weren't going to panic.
"I thought we played smart, played within ourselves," she said. "We play those situations all the time in practice, so we just had to stay within ourselves and know that we're still ahead, and still have the upper hand."
With no timeouts Fort Lewis rushed down the court to attempt a last second 3-pointer. Gray put a quick shot up with a few seconds remaining, and Clah gathered the rebound and was able to let one last shot go, but it did not fall.
"It feels amazing. Not just for me, but also for my team," Erickson said. "We work hard every day, and this is where it pays off."
Keely Bertram had 10 rebounds for the Yellow Jackets while Fort Lewis, which ends its season at 20-9, was led in scoring by Jordan Carter with 14 points, Gray with 13 and Kayla Herrera with 11.