FRANKFORT, Ky. – (Box Score) (Bracket) The Oklahoma City Stars brought home their seventh national title in dramatic fashion Tuesday evening, defeating No. 1-seeded Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.), 80-76, in the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship at the Frankfort Convention Center.
With the win, Oklahoma City ties former member Southern Nazarene (Okla.) with an NAIA-best seven national championships. The Stars are now 7-3 all-time in national championship finals.
No. 2-seeded Oklahoma City found a way to stop Freed-Hardeman’s scoring tandem of Hayley Newby and Grace Alonso de Armino, holding both without a double-double for the first time in this year’s national championship.
American Midwest Conference Player of the Year and WBCA-NAIA All-American Newby scored her first points nearly ten minutes into the first half, giving Freed-Hardeman a three-point lead, 18-15. With 4:00 remaining in the half, Oklahoma City lead by 12, 37-25, after wrapping up a 9-0 run.
After short spurts for both teams in the final minutes of the period—5-0 for Freed-Hardeman and 6-0 for Oklahoma City—the Lady Lions closed the half on a 7-0 run to pull within six, 43-37.
NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship Most Valuable Player Kayla MacKenzie hit her first four shots from beyond the arc to lead Oklahoma City with a game-high 16 points in the first half.
The duo of Newby and WBCA-NAIA All-America Honorable Mention Alonso de Armino scored just 12 points on 4-of-19 shooting (21.1 percent) from the field, but American Midwest Conference Freshman of the Year Taleeah Cross kept the Lady Lions in the game with a team-high 11 points in the first half.
Oklahoma City led through much of the second half, by as many as 14, but Freed-Hardeman battled back. On the heels of an 8-0 personal run by Brittany Montgomery, the Lady Lions took what would prove to be their only lead of the half, 70-69, on a Newby basket with 1:59 to go.
From there, Yvonte Neal would demonstrate why she was named the Co-Player of the Year and the Newcomer of the Year in the Sooner Athletic Conference, scoring nine of the Stars final 11 points—including four clutch free throws—to secure the 80-76 win.
Of her late-game performance, Neal said: “I just did it for my team, and mostly for the seniors. We’ve been working hard since day one. All of the running, all of the adversity, we’ve been here; we had to lay it on the line today.
“We had to come out and follow the game plan, and we executed. We won. I’m happy that I’m here with this team, this coach and this program.”
Oklahoma City head coach Latricia Trammell knew it would take big plays from big players to close out the game, but she had faith in her team.
“In my mind I just kept saying we’re going to win this. I really believed we were going to. If you think about the games we’ve had in this tournament so far, we’ve gotten a lead and then that team has gone on a run and came back and got it close and we end up making those big plays in the end,” said Coach Trammell.
“I’ve mentioned big players make big plays, but this entire tournament, I’ve had a team of big players. I can’t pick out one, stats-wise I can, but it took all of us to accomplish this.”
Neal netted a career-high 36 points to lead the Stars, while MacKenzie capitalized on 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range to score a personal tournament-high 21 points.
“What a lot of people don’t know about Kayla MacKenzie is she’s playing a position she’s never played before. She started playing the point guard position in December. For her to come out here that confident from December to this point right here and lead her team to a national championship says a lot about her. She’s a nursing major, and she can be my nurse any day, because I trust her with all my heart,” said Coach Trammell of the senior point guard.
MacKenzie, one of two remaining players from the 2012 Oklahoma City national championship squad, was left in awe of the moment.
“It’s unreal. I can honestly say hard work pays off. Never in a million years did I think I’d be here my last game of my senior year winning this [championship] and that award [MVP]. You couldn’t write it any better.”
The typical lead tandem for the Lady Lions, Newby and Alonso de Armino, shot 8-of-30 (26.67 percent) from the field, but Cross and Montgomery responded with personal tournament-highs of 21 points each to keep Freed-Hardeman in the game.
Newby ended up with 14 points and eight rebounds after a quiet first half, while Alonso de Armino finished with eight points and 15 rebounds after struggling to find her shot. Cynthia Woodward hit 4-of-8 shots (50.0 percent) from beyond the arc to contribute 12 points for the Lady Lions.
“Freed-Hardman is a class act. Their coaching staff is the same way. They fought for 40 minutes and didn’t give us anything easy. They’re a very good team with great players and a great coaching staff. They definitely don’t have anything to put their head down about,” said Coach Trammell of the Lady Lions.
Cara Pugh, with 9 points, and Autumn Lau, with 6 points, provided production off the Oklahoma City bench, while all of Freed-Hardeman’s 76 points came from its starting five.
With the win, Oklahoma City (27-4) now owns a 61-13 (.824) record in the national championship. The Stars 61 national championship wins are second all-time to former member Union (Tenn.) (67).
Freed-Hardeman (36-2), which had not played in a national championship final prior to Tuesday night’s appearance, earned its first national runner-up finish. The Lady Lions are now 24-18 (.571) in the national championship
NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball All-Tournament Teams
Tayla Foster, Bethel (Tenn.)
Grace Alonso de Armino, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.)
Hayley Newby, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.)
Yvonte Neal, Oklahoma City
Kyniddia Purdy, Wiley (Texas)
Porsha Harris, Bethel (Tenn.)
Ellen Sholtes, Campbellsville (Ky.)
Sierra Shipley, John Brown (Ark.)
Alannah Sheets, Shawnee State (Ohio)
Danisha Shaw, Wiley (Texas)
NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship Most Valuable Player
Kayla MacKenzie, Oklahoma City
NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship Hustle Award
Tia Pappas, Westminster (Utah)
NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Coach of the Year
Latricia Trammell, Oklahoma City