by Ed Beach
The fourpeat is complete for the top-ranked Lady Panthers.
Drury University used relentless defensive pressure to stifle third-seeded Lewis and triumph 77-55 Sunday in the finals of the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament.
The championship was the fourth in a row for head coach Molly Miller and seniors Hailey Diestelkamp, Daejah Bernard, and Brooke Stanfield.
Diestelkamp had another monster game on Sunday, with 25 points, 10 rebounds, seven steals, and six assists as Drury rose to 32-0. She was named tournament Most Valuable Player for the third-straight season.
The defense harassed the Flyers throughout the game — forcing 34 turnovers — but Drury still never led by 20 points until a run early in the third quarter. The Lady Panthers scored 13 straight points for a game-high 28-point lead with 8:47 left in the game.
The major problem for Drury in the first half was a 26.8 field-goal percentage on 11-of-41 shooting.
“We kind of had the jitters,” said coach Miller.
The defense, though, forced 20 turnovers in the first half and held Lewis to 8-of-25 shooting for 32 percent.
“You control what you can do on defense,” Miller said. “It’s nice to have that mentality.”
The team joined together — along with coaches and cheerleaders — on the court for photos and the celebratory cutting of the net, something that has grown common for Drury.
The Lady Panthers earned the automatic qualifier for the Midwest Regional, but won’t need that. They were ranked number one and have hopes of hosting the event this weekend.
“Our team is at its peak,” Diestelkamp believes. “We feel good about coming into regionals.”
First, though, it’s time to celebrate some records and another GLVC championship. “We’ll take a day off, then prepare for the biggest challenge of the season,” Diestelkamp said.
Sophomore guard Paige Robinson added 22 points, nine rebounds, and three assists on Sunday. The nine boards were a career-high after she collected eight in Thursday’s opening-round win. She joined Diestelkamp in being voted to the all-tournament team.
Bernard scored seven points and made three steals to cross 400 in her career, becoming the third player in program history to reach that total.
She said Robinson stepped up her game during the tournament, something Bernard thinks every player can do. “We know what we are going to get day in, day out. It’s hard to scout that,” she said about having a deep team. “Everyone can come out and score 20.”
Bernard is thrilled to have another opportunity to win another regional and then a national title. “We are just excited to play,” she said.
Center Morgan Glatczak scored 11 points to lead Lewis (19-12).
Drury’s win marked the program’s seventh GLVC championship and their ninth league title overall with two championships coming in the Heartland Conference.
(photo by bobby hearn)