By Chris Schmidbauer, Sports Information Director
Toledo, OH -- The Owens Women's Basketball team may have returned to Northwest Ohio as the Region XII Champions after their 74-62 victory of Columbus State on Monday night, but there are still plenty of goals to accomplish.
The Express want to play in the NJCAA Division III National Tournament in a few weeks, and in order to do that, Owens must face last season's national runner-up. The Express will tangle with Rock Valley on Saturday afternoon at 1 PM. The good news, for Owens, is that they get the Golden Eagles at home.
Owens got to this point after defeating Columbus State for the third time this season in the Region XII championship, which was played at Ohio Christian University in Circleville, OH. The Express jumped out to an incredible 18-0 lead from the opening tip. In fact, the Cougars didn't score their first points of the game until the 5:07 mark in the first quarter. The Express would push their lead as high as 20 points after a pair of Whitney Thames free throws, but the Cougars would trim the Owens advantage to 15 at the end of the opening quarter. Shyah Wheeler has an unbelievable first quarter, scoring 17 of Owens's 30 first quarter points.
Offense was at more of a premium in the second quarter. Neither team shot well from the field, with Owens shooting just 38% in the quarter compared to Columbus State's 29%. Despite shooting a lower percentage for the quarter, the Cougars outscored the Express by a point in the second, and the Owens lead was 41-27 as both teams headed to the locker room.
In the third period, Owens would start the frame on a 6-0 run to push their lead back up to 20 points, but the Cougars would not go away. With the offense on both sides of the floor lagging, both teams buckled down defensively. The Cougars had success on the offensive glass, grabbing seven offensive rebounds in the third, and they were able to trim another point off the Express advantage in the third. Owens would take a 55-42 lead into the final period of play.
The fourth period began with both teams trading buckets for the early portions of the quarter. But the Cougars would being to make their run at the 8:02 mark in the fourth. With Owens up 60-45, Columbus State would score six unanswered to pull within nine points at 60-51 with 7:11 to play, forcing an Owens timeout. A minute later, a three point bucket by Saryasia Nelson cut Owens's lead to just six points. It would force another timeout by the Express.
Wheeler would answer the call out of the respite, scoring a pair of layups to push the Express lead back to double digits at 64-54, but that's when the Owens offense went quiet. The Express would not score a basket over the next four minutes of play, but thanks to the Owens defense, the Cougars only scored two baskets of their own. Wheeler's tip in with 1:30 to play broke the Express drought and Owens would be able to salt away the game at the free throw line, making 11-14 from the charity stripe down the stretch to claim the Region XII title game.
After the game, head coach Stephen Perry, heaped praise on his team, saying, "I'm prouder of this group of six than any other group I've ever coached."
Wheeler would finish the game with 35 points on 15-24 shooting. She also had 13 rebounds to lead the Express. For her efforts, the Elida native was named the Region XII Tournament's Most Valuable Player.
As stated, the Express now return home to face off against Rock Valley on Saturday afternoon. The Golden Eagles won the Region IV championship on Monday night, beating Elgin 68-63. Owens and Rock Valley squared off against one another back on November 18 this season. The Express won that contest 80-65.
The District Championship is slated for tip off at 1 PM from the Student Health and Activities Center. The winner of the game will advance to the NJCAA Division III National Tournament in Bethlehem, PA in two weeks. We are asking all Express fans to wear their red and Pack the SHAC on Saturday to cheer our women's basketball team on.