By Justin Grones (@JustinGrones)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - As the Kress Center pumped celebratory music through its speakers, the Green Bay women's basketball team broke out its dancing shoes following a 54-38 victory over Loyola in the Horizon League Championship title game. The No. 20/20 Phoenix, now winners of 24 straight contests, will have an appearance in a 14th NCAA Tournament next weekend. With the win, Green Bay's record improves to 29-2 overall, while No. 3 seed and runner-up Loyola finishes the season at 17-15.
Senior Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.) was named the Horizon League Championshp MVP, and with her first three of the game she broke the program record for career 3-pointers made. The senior standout now has 195 career triples and finished the contest with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Fellow senior Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.) was also named to the All-Tournament team after turning in a game-high 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. More impressively, Eichler finished the game without a turnover.
Green Bay opened the game with an early basket from Stephanie Sension (Hopkins, Minn.) off a feed from Eichler. The deuce was the first of four scores the Phoenix and Ramblers would exchange before the home team shot out of the gates on a 17-4 run. Leading 18-8 with 7:45 left in the first half, Ritchie drained an NBA-length three to put Green Bay on top 21-8.
With a 25-15 lead, the Phoenix used a 9-2 run over the final 3:10 of the half to take a 34-17 lead into the break. Eichler scored seven of the run's nine points en route to 12 first-half points. Sension had just two points in the first half, but took three physical charges.
"Steph really stepped up for us there in that first half, and she has really good feet for a tall kid," head coach Kevin Borseth said.
Loyola came out of the break with the hot hand, scoring four unanswered to cut the lead to 34-21. The Phoenix replied with four straight of its own on shots from Lydia Bauer (Lake Zurich, Ill.) and Ranger to put the lead back at 17 points.
From there, the offense shut down for both sides while the defenses heated up. Neither team scored for nearly three minutes until the Ramblers scored four unanswered points to cut the lead to 38-27 with 10:24 to play.
"We couldn't get it in the lane at all-we had people in the lane but couldn't get inside," Borseth said. "We couldn't get a lot of shots to fall either because we just didn't have rhythm."
After going scoreless for more than five minutes, Eichler got the Phoenix back on the board with a layup, sparking a 6-0 run. With a jumper from Bauer and a Ritchie layup, Green Bay held a 44-27 lead with 6:14 remaining.
Loyola's Abby Skube hit a jumper with 1:07 remaining to make the score 51-38, but 30 seconds later Ritchie took her final shot of her standout career at the Kress Center-a nothing-but-net triple to put the final score at 54-38.
"For me this is all about my teammates and celebrating what I've done for the past four years with them," Ritchie said. "By no means is this over-and it's not the records and career lists that are important, it's the relationships and our fans and being able to celebrate this with our families."
Green Bay has now captured 12 Horizon League Championship titles and 13 conference tournament titles overall. The win marks the third straight Horizon League Championship win and the fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
"It's a great win, and I'm really happy for our seniors," Borseth said. "My job at the beginning of the year was not to screw this up and so far it's been a great ride-we have a really special group of kids.
Behind Eichler's 16 points and Ritchie's 15, redshirt junior Breannah Ranger (Skokie, Ill.) was a force to be reckoned with in the second half with 12 total points and six rebounds. The Skokie, Ill. native also added two steals while playing 25 minutes, two shy of her career high. Bauer was next in line in the scorebook with six points-finishing the contest with 977 career points.
Following a 29-point performance against Youngstown State in the semifinal round, Simone Law scored a team-high 12 points and added a career-high 14 rebounds for Loyola. Monica Albano was the Ramblers' second-leading scorer with nine.
Green Bay will host a special selection show event on Monday as the Phoenix awaits its seed, opponent and destination for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The doors will open at 5:30 p.m. with the event scheduled to start at 6 p.m.
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