Apr. 19—It was a fight to the end.
No. 24 Eastern Oklahoma State College (18-5) faced off against No. 9 Three Rivers Community College (22-0) in the opening round of the NJCAA National Women's Basketball Tournament at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas, on Monday afternoon, where EOSC fell 76-74 in a dramatic battle to the final horn.
Eastern won the opening tip, and wasted no time in notching four quick points to take the early lead. Three Rivers responded with four points of its own, setting up a back-and-forth in the early going of the first quarter.
A three-point shot from the Raiders gave them their first lead of the game, but Ashley Rubio answered for Eastern to stay on the heels of their opponent. But a 7-0 run from Three Rivers would see the Lady Mountaineers trailing 23-13 heading into the second quarter.
In the next period, Tijanae Simmons used a pair of free throws to get Eastern going on the offensive end. That was followed by a three-point swish by Crystal Ortiz to cut into the Raiders' lead.
Later, the Lady Mountaineers would use a steal and score followed by a triple by Tyia Treleaven to further cut the deficit back into single digits. Treleaven used her speed to take a steal of her own, and laid the ball into the cylinder to force a timeout.
Ortiz picked up a pair of free throws on the other side, and Jaylann Myles added in a jumper to cut the lead down to six points. Eastern turned up the heat on its defensive end as well, forcing Three Rivers to give up multiple turnovers and go cold on offense for most of the quarter.
Eastern used that combination and an arcing triple by Shanequa Henry to trim the Three Rivers lead to 39-33 at the half.
At the start of the second half, Brayanna Polk found Tilan Nolan in transition to get Eastern moving once again. Nolan added another bucket underneath the goal, and Henry used a bucket and a foul shot to put Eastern back into the lead for the first time since the first quarter.
That began a back-and-forth between the two teams, with neither team showing signs of relenting. But thanks to a pair of huge threes by Henry, Eastern would find itself tied 57-57 with Three Rivers.
The Lady Mountaineers' momentum only continued to build, as they jumped out to their largest lead of the day at six points with just four minutes remaining in the game. Three Rivers would cut into that lead, but Myles added in another bucket to keep the Lady Raiders at bay.
Eastern kept the accelerator to the floor, and never let up the defensive pressure on its opponents. But Three Rivers responded with just more than 60 seconds remaining, scoring 10 quick points to retake the lead at 75-71.
Henry drilled a triple with just seconds remaining to bring Eastern within striking distance, but Three Rivers would steal a pass on the final possession to take the win.
Eastern finishes the seasons with 18 wins to just five losses, and its first appearance in the NJCAA National Tournament in 20 years.
Contact Derek Hatridge at firstname.lastname@example.org.