LADY LIONS WIN USA SOUTH TOURNAMENT

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For the second year in a row the Piedmont Lady Lions basketball team, led by Head Coach Jamie Purdy, has won the USA South conference Tournament. With a second straight conference championship, comes a second straight trip to the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball for the Lady Lions.

Piedmont had a regular season record of 20-5, with an 11-3 record in USA South play. The Lady Lions lost two of their last three regular season games before beginning USA South Tournament play. Once the conference tournament started, the Lady Lions were able to get back to their winning ways that earned them the #2 seed from the West Division in the USA South Tournament.

Coach Purdy and the Lady Lions have depended on their seniors, Bridgette Kelly, Carlie Shields and Dakota Sullens, both for their skills on the basketball court and their leadership abilities all season long.

Coach Purdy said, “Carlie and Bridgette both put in so much extra time in the gym outside of practice, so for them I’m excited. Dakota is really focused as well and she wants it so bad. She’s one of the most selfless people I’ve ever coached.”

Those three players played integral parts in the USA South Tournament.

After receiving a first round bye for being a top 2 seed from the Piedmont started off the USA South Tournament with a home game in Cave Arena on Saturday, February 17, against division rival, and #3 seed, Maryville College. Piedmont and Maryville split the two regular season matchups, with each team winning a game on the other’s home floor. The Lady Lions were down by as many as 13 points in the first half of the USA South quarterfinal matchup, but fought back to take the lead in the third quarter, and never trailed again. Piedmont ultimately won the game by a score of 66-55, and had four players score 12 or more points in the contest. Senior forward Dakota Sullens led the way for Piedmont with a team-high 15 points while shooting 7-9 from the field. Sophomore forward Rachel Irby also added a double-double for the Lady Lions, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the USA South quarterfinal victory.

Fast forward a week later to Saturday, February 24. Piedmont played the host of the semifinal and final rounds, #1 seed from the East Division, Greensboro College. The Lady Lions went into halftime leading by six points, and never looked back. In the second half, Piedmont led by as many as 19 points, and eventually ended up winning the USA South semifinal game by double digits, 62-50. Junior guard Jatasia Bailey was the top scorer for the Lady Lions, scoring a game-high 17 points, all of which came in the second half. Senior guard Bridgette Kelly was on fire from behind the arc, shooting 4-8 from three, and was Piedmont’s second highest scorer with 12 points. The win over Greensboro put the Lady Lions in the USA South championship for the second straight season.

The next day, Sunday, February 25, Piedmont played for the USA South championship against the #1 seed from the West Division, Berea College. Piedmont outscored Berea by six points in both the first and second quarters, and took a 12-point lead into the half. Berea battled back in the third, cutting the lead to six as the game entered the fourth quarter. Berea tied the contest at 55 with 3:31 to play in the USA South Tournament championship game, but Piedmont outscored Berea 14-8 the rest of the way, going 8-10 from the free throw line over the final 2:24 of the game.  Piedmont had four players score 11 or more points in the USA South championship game. Bridgette Kelly had a hot hand from behind the arc for the second game in a row, scoring a team-high 18 points on 5-8 shooting from three-point range. Senior guard, and last year’s Tournament MVP, Carlie Shields along with Sophomore forward Brittany Walker each had 12 points in the championship game for Piedmont, while sophomore guard Amari Price added 11 points and secured a team-high 7 rebounds.

Bridgette Kelly was named the Tournament MVP after her outstanding shooting performances on Saturday and Sunday, while Carlie Shields and Amari Price earned spots on the USA South all-tournament team. These three players were key players in helping Piedmont win its second consecutive USA South Championship and earn a second straight NCAA Tournament bid.

Coach Purdy said, “I’m excited for these girls. Bridgette hit a slump these past couple weeks. Shots weren’t falling for her but her effort never wavered. She was consistently a threat on the defensive end and was able to bring the ball up the floor for us. She played really well, but shots just weren’t falling. For her to come out this past weekend and play the way that she did, it was a really a spark for us, and gave the team motivation to finish it out.”

The Lady Lions are now on a four game winning streak dating back to the regular season, and look to carry the momentum from the USA South championship into the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Lady Lions won the USA South championship, but ultimately lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Albright College.

Coach Purdy said, “This group understands what it’s going to take to win in the NCAA Tournament. We’re playing a team we have never seen before, and you have a short amount of time to prepare, and that’s a challenge within itself. I think the experience the girls that have from last year will prepare them for this year.”

Piedmont will face Juniata College on Friday, March 2, at 5 p.m., in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament. Juniata comes into the tournament after earning an at-large bid, and losing the Landmark Conference championship game in overtime, 59-58, and putting their record for the season at 22-5. Host team Thomas More will play Oglethorpe in their first round matchup. The games will be played at Thomas More College, which is located in Crestview Hills, Ky. The winner of each game will advance to the second round and play the next day at Thomas More College.