by Ed Beach
In a season of records, Drury University took a step toward another major one on Thursday — a Great Lakes Valley Conference-record fourth-straight tournament title.
The top-seeded Lady Panthers stopped Maryville 94-73 behind another big game from senior Hailey Diestelkamp in the first round of the GLVC Tournament.
Diestelkamp scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds — and also had four steals and three assists.
Sophomore guard Paige Robinson scored 23 and also pulled down eight rebounds was Drury rose to 30-0.
“We needed a couple more bodies under the basket to get rebounds,” Robinson said. “I knew I needed to step up more than scoring.”
Actually, the whole team needed to step up after the Lady Panthers scored 56 points and allowed 49 points in a hectic first-half at First Community Arena in Edwardsville, Illinois. Drury did by allowing only 12 in each of the third and fourth quarters.
Coach Molly Miller made it abundantly clear at halftime that the team had to tighten its defense.
“She was just motivating us. We responded, came out better in the second half,” Diestelkamp said.
Miller agreed: “You have a veteran team, and you ask them to respond. We responded. We just guarded better and finished with rebounds. We had a lot cleaner second half.”
Maryville cut the lead to two early in the third quarter, but Drury started to build a double-digit lead. A late 14-point scoring run put the game away for the Lady Panthers, who led by 27 with 1:41 left.
“You can’t just show up. You have to take every team seriously,” Miller said. “That was a big gut-check game for us.”
She praised Robinson for her all-around efforts. “Hailey did what Hailey does,” Miller said.
Diestelkamp scored a school and conference-record 53 points in the last regular season game and has had 11 double-doubles this season.
Brooke Stanfield scored 11 points, and Lauren Holmes totaled nine points, five steals, five rebounds, and four assists in Friday’s quarterfinal. Senior guard Daejah Bernard made six steals, four assists, and four rebounds.
Five players scored in double figures for the eight-seeded Saints. They also led 49-38 in rebounds but made 28 turnovers 27 fouls in dropping to 16-12.
Diestelkamp said every one of Drury’s opponents will be bringing their best games in efforts to reach the regionals. “We had to get the jitters out of the way. We have to realize this is their tournament berth,” she said.
The team that wins the tournament championship gets an automatic berth in the NCAA Division II tournament.
The Lady Panthers will play at 2:30 pm Saturday against in a semifinal against the winner of Friday afternoon’s game between No. 4 Truman State and No. 5 Lindenwood. The championship game is scheduled at 1 pm Sunday.