PITTSBURG — The difference wasn’t overly complicated or anything groundbreaking.

Pittsburg State’s women outscored Emporia State by 12 at the free throw line, hitting 26 of 31 to top the Lady Hornets 78-74 in the Central Region championship game Monday night in John Lance Arena.

It mirrored Pitt State’s other victory over ESU on Feb. 6, when the Gorillas made 30 of 35 at the line to win in White Auditorium.

“We scored five more field goals tonight, we scored six more at our place, but when you’re getting outscored at the free throw line by 16 in the first game and 12 in this game and you lose by single digits,” ESU head coach Jory Collins said, “I think that’s obviously where (the difference) is at.”

ESU, led by a 25-point outing from junior Kelly Moten, erased a 13-point deficit in the second half. The Lady Hornets scored 10 straight points in the third quarter without Moten scoring in the run.

“Just getting defensive stops, making sure we don’t panic and making sure we execute on offense,” Moten said of the comeback, “that was a big key for us.”

Senior Sandra Ngoie, who finished with 11 points, hit a trey in the fourth to tie the game at 60, the first tie since an 18-18 score in the first quarter. The left-handed senior hit an even more difficult trey late in the fourth, stepping to her right and burying a shot while fading to her right to pull ESU within two with 26 seconds left.

“I was proud of our team tonight. We got down 13 in the second half, made a great comeback to tie it,” Collins said. “I thought we showed a lot of heart and a lot of toughness, a lot of poise right there, but just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Pitt State’s Cathy Brugman, named the Central Region Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, kept ESU from getting over the hump most of the game. The senior forward finished with 27 points and scored consecutive buckets to answer Ngoie’s game-tying trey in the fourth.

“We couldn’t guard Brugman,” Collins said. “She was getting right to the rim and either making a shot or getting fouled, so that was a huge key in the game.”

Brugman converted 8 of 19 from the field and 10 of 10 from the line, finishing the tournament 26 of 26 from the charity stripe.

“It’s hard,” ESU junior Kathryn Flott, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, said of guarding Brugman. “She’s a driver and a shooter so you have to be ready for both. We just weren’t assignment correct tonight.”

Moten scored 13 first half points, staying on the attack all game. She added six more in both the third and fourth, finishing 10 of 19 from the field to go with six assists and three steals.

“You can’t stop her. She’s just too good, so (the game plan was to) let her get her 25 or 30 (points) and then don’t let them shoot any threes,” said PSU head coach Lane Lord, whose team held ESU to 4 of 13 from beyond the arc while making 6 of 16 on its end. “We’ll trade two for twos and hopefully we make a few threes.”

On top of carrying the offensive load, Moten also took on the responsibility of guarding All-MIAA guard Mikaela Burgess, who scored 17 points, for most of the game. She said the dual responsibilities in 38 minutes on the court didn’t wear her down.

“We work on these things in the preseason and this is what our team is built on, championships and having mental toughness,” Moten said. “So, no, I didn’t get tired.”

Addie Lackey missed most the second quarter with two fouls, picking up her second 12 seconds into the period on a call that puzzled Collins.

“It hurt us only being able to play Addie seven (minutes in the first half),” said Collins, adding that he was content with just a five-point deficit at the break considering Flott sat for the final 3:42 of the second quarter with two fouls as well.

Lackey, with just two points at the half, scored 11 in the second half to finish the season with seven straight 10-plus point games.

The sophomore sparked the Lady Hornets’ 10-0 run in the third with a trey. She also scored twice in the final minute to pull ESU each time within a possession of Pitt State, which went 13 of 15 from the line in the fourth quarter to hold off the Lady Hornets. 

“Emporia State, what a program, what a coach, what a team,” Lord said. “We’re very fortunate. We just made a couple more plays.”

The Gorillas, the number two seed hosting because of a conflict with a state tournament at White Auditorium in Emporia, advance to their second ever Elite Eight to play Grand Valley State in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“Tonight was incredible. Walking out there and seeing how packed it was and hearing the roar of the crowd when we made a big shot,” Brugman said of the crowd, totaled at 2,891. “They fueled us and gave us so much energy and we couldn’t go out of this gym on a loss.”

PSU 15 17 23 23 – 78

ESU 14 13 22 25 – 74

PSU (29-5)

Gafford 6-11 2-2 14, Brugman 8-19 10-10 27, Lungwitz 2-7 2-2 8, Herlocker 3-6 3-4 10, Burgess 4-8 7-9 17, Flott 0-0 0-0 0, Lopez 0-0 0-0 0, Imhoff 0-0 0-0 0, Northcutt 0-2 2-4 2. TOTALS 23-53 26-31 78.

ESU (28-6)

Ngoie 4-10 1-2 11, Flott 4-9 2-2 10, Moten 10-19 5-8 25, Lackey 5-9 2-3 13, Holloway 0-1 0-0 0, Kramer 0-1 0-0 0, Baker 1-1 0-0 2, Miller 2-4 0-0 5. TOTALS 28-60 14-19 74.

3-point field goals — PSU 6-16 (Brugman 1-6, Lungwitz 2-4, Herlocker 1-3, Burgess 2-4), ESU 4-13 (Ngoie 2-4, Barnwell 0-2, Lackey 1-4, Miller 1-3). Rebounds — PSU 30 (Lungwitz 8), ESU 37 (Flott, Miller 9). Assists — PSU 8 (Herlocker 5), ESU 9 (Moten 6). Turnovers — PSU 10, ESU 13. Total fouls — PSU 16, ESU 22. Fouled out — ESU: Holloway. Technical fouls — none.

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