No. 2 seed MVNU (27-9) did not get off to a good start in the game, missing its first seven shots and committing turnovers. Meanwhile, the No. 5 seed Sailfish began the game on an 11-0 lead, going 5-of-8 from the field. Chanell Byrd scored the fist seven points of the game for the Sailfish.
MVNU finally got on the scoreboard at the 15:35 mark when sophomore post Amanda Himes hit a jumper. However, after a basket by freshman Alexis Harkins closed the gap to 11-4, Palm Beach Atlantic scored four straight points to push the lead back to 15-4 with 10:37 left in the half.
A 3-pointer each by senior guards Jessica Lynn and Rachel Fiely pulled the team within 15-10 with 8:14 to play, but the Sailfish got a trey from Lynsey Poole, a pair of free throws from Haley Fields and a jumper by Chanell Byrd to again extend the lead back up to 22-12 at the 5:18 mark.
A free throw by Harkins, another 3-pointer from Lynn and a three-point shot from Bethany Hughes pulled the Cougars to within 22-19. However, Palm Beach Atlantic used a 5-2 run to close the half with a 27-21 lead at the half.
Himes and Lynn led MVNU with six points apiece in the first half. Byrd led Palm Beach Atlantic with nine points and six rebounds in the first half, while Fields and Poole added seven points apiece.
The second half started well for MVNU, as sophomore forward Kellie Jokela and Himes each made a basket to trim the lead to 27-25 just two and a half minutes in.
However, a quick 8-0 run by Palm Beach Atlantic pushed the lead back out to 35-25 by the 13:45 mark. Fields led the way with four points.
With their backs against the wall, the Cougars dug down deep and went on an 11-0 run to take their first lead of the game 36-35 on a steal and layup by senior wing Bethany Hughes with 7:22 to play. Hughes had four points during the comeback, while Himes added five points.
The Sailfish grabbed the lead right back on a jumper by Poole, who scored Palm Beach Atlantic’s next six points to stake her team back out to a 41-38 lead with 5:57 to go.
A free throw by Hughes and a trey by Fiely put MVNU back on top 42-41 at the 4:18 mark. Over the next two minutes, Himes scored four points, including a stick-back after a missed free throw, to help the Cougars extended their lead out to 47-44 with 2:01 remaining.
Jordan Kong came off the Sailfish bench to hit a 25-foot trey with 52.1 seconds left to knot the score at 47-47. However, MVNU countered with a basket by Himes with 33 seconds to go, and the Cougars led 49-47.
Poole split a pair of free throws to pull within 49-48 with 24.2 seconds remaining, and Himes went 1-of-2 at the line to maintain a 50-48 advantage for MVNU.
With four seconds left in appeared that history might three-peat itself when Fields launched a trey from the left corner that appeared ready to put Palm Beach Atlantic back on top. However, the shot glanced off the rim and was grabbed by Himes with two seconds to go.
Himes missed both free throws to give the Sailfish a slim chance for a miracle, but Palm Beach Atlantic was unable to get a shot off before the final horn sounded. MVNU captured its third NCCAA national title (1994, 2001 and 2009), and only Bethel (Ind.) College, with four championships, has won more NCCAA national titles.
“I am very proud of our team as they never gave up and found a way to win against Palm Beach Atlantic, who has been hot at the right time of the year,” said MVNU coach Steve Gregory, who was named the NCCAA National Coach of the Year for the second time in his career. “I am so proud of this senior class. A victory in the national championship game is something nobody will ever be able to take away from them. They can fondly remember every time they come into our gym that they helped earn this banner for our team. This is a senior class that has stayed together and conquered the disappointing losses late in the season and rebounded to bring home the NCCAA national championship to MVNU.”
Himes led the Cougars with 22 points and 13 rebounds for her third double-double in three days at the NCCAA National Tournament. She was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 21.3 points and 13.3 rebounds over the three games. Hughes added eight points off the bench, and Fiely and Lynn contributed six points apiece. Fiely and Lynn were also named to the All-Tournament Team. MVNU shot 32.1 percent from the field (18-of-56), 33.3 percent from three-point range (5-of-15) and 47.4 percent from the free-throw line (9-of-19). The Cougars also took care of the basketball with just eight turnovers (including just two in the second half) while forcing the Salfish into 16 miscues.
“Amanda came up huge tonight,” said Gregory. “She was going head-to-head with a 6-foot-4 post and was actually undersized for once. Down the stretch, she wanted the ball and her teammates made good passes for her. She was tough on the glass and accounted for yet another double-double which earned her the MVP honors. Our defense was also solid in the second half and forced Palm Beach Atlantic into a lot of miscues. Rachel and Bethany keyed our defensive run with help from (Jessica) Lynn.”
The Sailfish were led by Poole with 16 points, while Fields and Chanell finished with 11 points apiece with Byrd grabbing 11 rebounds. Selethia Jackson also grabbed 12 rebounds. Palm Beach Atlantic shot 34.7 percent from the field (17-of-49), 44.4 percent from three-point range and 66.7 percent from the free-throw line (10-of-15).