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Cougars headed to NAIA Final 4

Undefeated women in semifinals for 1st time in 7 seasons

– Top-ranked Saint Francis has made things look easy as it makes its first Final Four appearance in seven seasons at the NAIA Division II women’s basketball national championships.

Saturday afternoon at the Tyson Events Center, the unbeaten Cougars moved to 36-0 with a 76-61 win over No. 9 Southwestern (Kan.) in a top-10 quarterfinal battle.

Saint Francis used a 14-0 spurt midway through the first half to race to a 20-point halftime lead (40-20) and posted its third double-figure victory of the tournament.

Kalah Baer, a 6-foot senior, poured in a career-high 25 points for the Cougars, who will play Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) in the national semifinals at 7 p.m. Monday.

Baer came into the game averaging 8.8 points and posted just her second scoring output of over over 20 points this season.

“My teammates kept feeding me the ball,” said Baer, who also snared 12 rebounds. “It worked really well today. My team and I are doing a great job. I have so much confidence in them and I’m proud of them.”

Saint Francis, Crossroads League champions, is making its fourth trip to the Final Four, but first since 2006.

The Cougars fell to Northwestern (Iowa) in the quarterfinals last season.

“It feels awesome,” said Baer of making it to the Final Four.

Skylarr Shurn, a 5-7 senior guard, tallied 18 points while Jennelle Wilson, another 5-7 senior, added 17 and Brooke Ridley, a 5-11 sophomore, chipped in 11 as four players accounted for 71 of the team’s 76 points.

Southwestern, Kansas Athletic Conference regular season champions, was coming off a national tournament tying 112 points in a second round win over Olivet Nazarene, but struggled through a 33-percent shooting night.

“We really guarded really well, kept them in front of us, got out on their shooters,” Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews said. “We rebounded really well, we played great defense in the first half.

“It’s been about seven or eight years (actually seven), so it’s nice to get back to the Final Four.”

The Moundbuilders (30-5) mounted a late second half rally, but never cut the deficit under 14 points in their first Elite Eight appearance in school history.

Montana Rickey came off the bench to lead Southwestern with 15 points while Sheri Zoglmann added 13.

Jessica Hobbs, the squads only double figure scorer, was held scoreless, only attempting three shots.

“You have to try to survive, doesn’t matter what the score is,” Andrews said.

“You just want to try to play the next game, Southwestern is a very good team and to be able to beat them is a good accomplishment for our team.”