Junior Maddie Ryman of Grace College brings the ball into the forecourt with Houghton's Crysta Lacrosse defending during Wednesday's opening round of the NCCAA tournament at Grace. Photos by Gary Nieter
Junior Maddie Ryman of Grace College brings the ball into the forecourt with Houghton's Crysta Lacrosse defending during Wednesday's opening round of the NCCAA tournament at Grace. Photos by Gary Nieter
Defensive woes that spanned the first quarter led to a shaky start for the Grace Lady Lancers in their opening game of the NCCAA Tournament against the Houghton Highlanders Wednesday night. Looking to avoid being eliminated in the tournament’s first round as a higher seed for the second consecutive year, Grace was able to right the ship over the next three quarters to come away with a dominant 75-49 win.

After giving up 22 points in the first quarter, the Lady Lancers surrendered just 27 over the next three, highlighted by allowing just seven points in each of the second and fourth quarters.

Both sides wasted no time showing off their offensive prowess, combining for 10 points in the opening 60 seconds of play. With each team’s point guard sprinting up the court the moment they got the ball, the pace was blistering and at times difficult to catch up with.

At the first timeout four minutes into the game, the Lady Lancers held on to a four-point lead thanks to their efficiency down in the paint. Whether it was Crossroads League Player of the Year Karlee Feldman, Warsaw native Maddie Ryman or any other Grace player that decided to take the ball down low, odds are they found success.

The biggest problem for the three-seeded Lancers was that Houghton also had little difficulty getting good positioning and knocking down easy shots. Neither side bothered attempting many shots from outside because the paint area was practically free real-estate. Eventually, the Highlanders were able to figure out some strategies that limited Grace’s successes, leading to a short run that saw Houghton holding onto a four-point lead of their own after the first ten minutes.

The next ten minutes of play belonged solely to the Lady Lancers. Starting off the second quarter in dominant fashion, the home side would allow just one point over the first five and a half minutes of the period, nothing from the field. In the meantime, the Lady Lancers had shaken off the slump and were back to dominating the Highlanders inside, specifically Feldman, who was practically a guaranteed bucket if she got the ball low enough.

Using this newfound energy, Grace was able to extend its lead to double-digits by the midway point of the quarter. Feldman continued dominating the post in what ended up being a monster night for her. She led Grace in scoring (20 points), rebounds (13) steals (four) and blocks (one). Houghton would eventually get the lid off of the rim and score a few points to trim the deficit back to six at one point, but the Highlanders would not get any closer the rest of the contest. Going into halftime, the Lady Lancer lead sat comfortably at 12 points.

The third quarter featured more of the same for Grace, as the team began the period by combining another scoring run with some devastating defense. With Houghton unable to score a point for the first four minutes of the period and the Lady Lancers continuing to get everything they wanted, things began getting more and more lopsided by the second. While the team’s lead didn’t extend by much by the end of the third, the result seemed all but finalized. With just ten minutes remaining, Grace had everything clicking.

The dominance finally started to display itself on the scoreboard as the fourth quarter went along. Shortly into the period, the three seed found itself up by 20 points for the first time. Not long after, and for just a brief period of time, the lead was extended to 30. With the game out of reach and key players having made their mark, both benches emptied in the final four minutes as reserves flooded the court. Sophomore Kate Rulli made the most of her extended playing time, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds as the game reached its conclusion.

Ryman (16 points) and Peyton Murphy (14 points) rounded out the top three scorers for Grace. Kiersten Findley had seven and Kaylee Patton had six to finish off the top five. The Lady Lancers are back in action Thursday night at 5:15 p.m. in the tournament’s semifinal game against the No. 2 seed College of the Ozarks. The winner will advance to the championship game, which will be played Saturday at 2 p.m.