KATY, Texas— Two free throws with :01 left in the game by tournament MVP Caitlyn Baggett sealed McNeese State's second consecutive Southland Conference Tournament title and the Cowgirls are heading to the "Big Dance" for the second straight year.
"It's been a tough journey to get here. The target's been on their back all year," said head coach Brooks Donald-Williams. "I thought the girls handled themselves with such composure. There's no question our defense won this game."
Baggett scored a game high 21 points and was 6 of 16 from the field including 4 of 8 from three-point range. Ashlyn Baggett, who was named to the all-tournament team ended the game with 14 while Kendra Wells and Martika Hll handled the rebounds with 12 and 11 apiece. Wells was also a member of the all-tournament team.
With the Cowgirls leading 29-24 at the half, Stephen F. Austin came out on fire in the second half and scored the first five points to tie the game at 29 all. McNeese then retook the lead on five straight points by Caitlyn Baggett to hold a 32-29 lead. Stephen F. Austin would tie the game on a three-pointer by Tammara Marion with 16:16 left to play before taking a three point lead 37-34 on another trey, this time by Brittney Matthew.
McNeese would chip away at the lead and tie the game for the sixth time on a jumper by Ashlyn Baggett. The game would go back and forth and the Cowgirls would hold its largest lead of the half at six points on a Raiyawna Gatlin layup with 5:45 left. The Ladyjacks tied the game for the last time with 1:27 left to play in another three by Marion to even the game up at 56. McNeese would score the final four points of the game from the free throw line, all coming from Caitlyn Baggett.
With :19 seconds left to play, Baggett uncharacteristically missed two free throws but was bailed out when Wells came up with her 12th rebound of the game off the second miss.
"I was extremely grateful. I felt really bad," said Baggett. "I was just so grateful 'Kitty' (Kendra Wells) got that rebound," added Baggett.
Baggett redeemed herself after making two free throws with :07 seconds left in the game after she was fouled driving to the basket. She sealed the win with two more freebies with :01 left.
McNeese held a 29-24 halftime lead behind 14 first half points by Catilyn Baggett. McNeese trailed early in the game and was down by as many as six points with (13:52) left in the half. McNeese went on a 9-2 run to take a 13-12 lead on back to back treys by Baggett. The score went back and forth as each team took no more than a one point lead until Martika Hull made two free throws and Baggett scored six straight points. Baggett made an old fashion three-point play then hit one from the right side to give McNeese a 23-16 lead.
McNeese will find out its opponent and site Monday evening. A selection show party will take place but all plans have yet to be finalized.
"I think we've proved against quality teams this year that we can play with them. We're ready to take advantage of a great opportunity. We want to represent the Southland Conference as best we can, and I certainly think this group of girls can go do that."