Rio Grande’s Ella Skeens puts in two of her game-high 29 points during the second half of Tuesday night’s 93-72 win over Midway University in the title game of the River States Conference Women’s Basketball Championship at the Newt Oliver Arena. Skeens also had seven rebounds and six assists in the victory.
RIO GRANDE, Ohio — Despite all of her gaudy offensive statistics, Ella Skeens’ coaches and teammates at the University of Rio Grande are quick to tell you that she takes a team-first approach to the game.
But when her team needed the freshly-minted River States Conference Player of Year to step up and take over Tuesday night’s RSC Championship game against Midway University, the Chillicothe, Ohio senior delivered like the mailman.
Skeens scored 11 of her game-high 29 points during a momentum-swinging fourth quarter run which propelled the RedStorm to a 93-72 win over the Eagles at a raucous Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande, the tourney’s No. 1 seed out of the East Division and its top seed overall, improved to 28-3 with a 10th consecutive victory.
Midway, the No. 1 seed from the league’s West Division, slipped to 23-8 with the loss and had its 12-game winning streak snapped. The streak began after the Eagles’ home loss to the RedStorm on Jan. 10.
Rio Grande jumped to a 10-point lead after one quarter and extended its advantage to 13 points, 33-20, after a bucket by junior Aleea Crites (Parkersburg, WV) with 4:03 left in the first half.
But the Eagles began chipping away at the deficit by closing the half on a 10-2 run to pull within five and, after Rio pushed the lead back to 10 with just over 6-1/2 minutes to play in the third quarter, parlaying a 20-10 spurt into a 55-all tie after Jalyn Jackson hit one of two free throw attempts with 54.1 seconds remaining in the third.
The RedStorm kickstarted their game-changing run with a pair of free throws by sophomore Harlei Antritt (Newark, OH) and another jumper by Crites to take a 59-55 lead into the final period, but it was Skeens who took control over the next 3-1/2 minutes and turned the tide of the game.
Skeens scored off of an offensive rebound and then drained three-pointers on three straight possessions as part of a 22-2 run — a run that included 16 straight points — which ballooned the advantage to 77-57 with 6:49 left to play.
Midway got no closer than 19 points from that point on and Rio’s largest lead of 23 points, 93-70, came with just under 30 seconds remaining on a layup by sophomore Azyiah Williams (Ripley, OH).
Rio Grande survived 25 turnovers — its third-highest single-game mark of the season and its most since committing 23 miscues in a win over Asbury on January 24 — by shooting just over 50 percent overall (34-for-67) and going 18-for-22 at the free throw line (81.8%).
The RedStorm also enjoyed a 53-43 edge in rebounding.
Skeens, in addition to her 29 points, finished with seven rebounds and six assists. Crites finished with 16 points, a team-high 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Sophomore Kaylee Darnell (Wheelersburg, OH) totaled 15 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in the winning effort, while junior Lexi Woods (Waverly, OH) had 11 points.
Midway shot just 31 percent overall (25-for-80) and 26.7 percent from distance (4-for-15), while also connecting on just 18 of its 30 free throw attempts (60.0%).
Dezeree White led the Eagles with 22 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots, while Jackson had 19 points and five assists and Semaj Adams had five steals.
Both teams will advance to the NAIA National Championship — Rio Grande as the RSC’s regular season champion and, because the RedStorm also won the league’s tournament crown, Midway as the tourney runner-up.
The NAIA will release all first round pairings on Thursday at 7 p.m.
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