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Lady Lions take RRAC tourney opener, sweep season series, 3-0

DRIVING HER POINTS HOME: Senior guard Stephanie Hawkins scored 18 points and hit four important three-pointers in the second half against Bacone. Photo by Gina Godding.WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- Led by a constricting defense and the clutch three-point shooting of Stephanie Hawkins (DeSoto, Tx / DeSoto HS), Southwestern Assemblies of God University eliminated Bacone College, 61-53, in the opener of the Red River Athletic Conference tournament.

The team, who whipped Bacone in the season finale just three days earlier in the week, 71-65, put the squeeze on the Lady Warriors in the second half, forcing them to shoot over their highly-effective zone defense. Utilizing an active, trapping zone, SAGU allowed only 27% accuracy in the second half.

Southwestern's knockout punch however, was six straight three-pointers that buried Bacone. Hawkins knocked down four consecutive bombs and Chelsea Jones (San Antonio, Tx / Cornerstone Christian) fired a pair – without a miss during a stretch of 6:44.

The Tribe's Lani Gi (pronounced LAH-nee JEE) scored twice to draw to within 30-28 with 16:37 remaining in the game. Enter: Hawkins.

Hawkins: Tres Magnifique!

The 5-foot-5 senior co-captain from nearby DeSoto High School played a key role for the Eagles during their run towards the state championship four years ago. Thursday the "Hawk" soared when needed her most. She pulled the trigger on back-to-back triples in 35 seconds on assists from Gabby Bruner (Peaster, Tx / Peaster HS) and Heather Jefferson (Conroe, Tx / Conroe HS).

Jefferson, the energetic guard whose speed is critical to the team, joined the fray with two field goals for a 40-33 lead. She then grabbed a long rebound after Gi missed from the perimeter, zoomed upcourt and spotted Jones on the edge.

Jones, who had the nation's best three-point percentage a year ago (.442 while making 61 threes), was at it again. While she's made more trifectas this year, her accuracy (.433 on 74 threes) ranks #6 in the NAIA. She launched two from downtown in a span of thirteen seconds, one following a Jefferson dime, and they both found only the bottom of the net. SAGU extended their lead to 46-33 (13:07).

A turnover by the red-clad Warriors was cashed in when Jones passed to Hawkins. Open for matinee business, she delivered the goods with her third trey. Freshman forward Jirah Rodriguez (Georgetown, Tx / Georgetown HS) got in on the scoring frenzy. She stroked a jumper, then stole the ball from Cortney Warren, then wristed a pass to Hawkeye.

The veteran tickled the twine for her fourth 3-ball and a 54-35 stranglehold. There was only 9:53 showing on the game clock at Waxahachie High School's Frank W. Solis (pronounced SO-lees) Gymnasium. The 24-7 scoring run seized control of the game.

Bacone staged a comeback of their own, each time answered with timely free throws by Jones, Bruner, Jefferson and Hawkins. The Warriors were within 12 points when Jefferson sent an assist to Rodriguez. Her bucket gave SAGU a 61-47 margin with 1:56 left.

Kevelle Harmon and Brianna Byers swished threes in the last minute while the Lady Lions missed six foul shots, making the score appear much closer than it was.

First Half Summary

AND IT CAME TO PASS: Senior forward Chelsea Jones looks for an open teammate. Photos available at GoddingGallery.SmugMug.com.Bacone got off to a spirited start. The Warriors applied fullcourt pressure that managed to separate ballhandlers from the orange sphere. The turnovers sparked Bacone to a 16-6 lead after only 7:36 of play. The Lions regrouped, and stormed back into the game.

Freshman center Sierra Hankins (Welch, Ok / Welch HS) scored during ten unanswered points to knot the score at 16 (9:33). Free throws spelled the difference throughout the first half for SAGU. Jones sank a pair for a 22-21 lead they would never lose. Jefferson added two from the stripe, then Jones tossed in two more in the final moments.

Jefferson made the play of the half deep into the last minute. Down by three, Bacone was setting up for a closing chance to tie the score. That's when Jefferson pirated the ball and turned on the jets, going the distance for a layup and a 28-23 advantage with 0:22 left. The Warriors had enough time for another shot. It was blocked by Jefferson.

Player Totes

Hawkins finished with a game-high 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Jones added 16, including 8-of-10 from the charity stripe. The 2010 NAIA All-American also had six rebounds. Jefferson had a splendid showing. She poured in 13 points. She connected on 4-of-6 shots, pulled down four boards, totaled four assists and bagged five steals.

Rodriguez netted another 10 points and, along with Bruner, led the team with seven boards, helping SAGU hold a 42-38 advantage.

Michelle Simmons and Gi were tops for Bacone with 14 and 10 points respectively.

Continued mastery over Bacone

The win over Bacone completed a 3-0 season sweep, all of them by less than 10 points; 71-68, 71-65 and 61-53. Southwestern has now won eight straight against Bacone, who finished their season with a 19-10 record under veteran Head Coach Robbie Shay. He is a graduate from SAGU and coached the Lady Lions to their first and only winning season prior to the arrival of current HC Arlon Beadles.

Beadles has now amassed three consecutive 20-win seasons; 24-8, 25-8 and 21-10. The team advances to the RRAC semi-finals to face the 5-time defending league champs from Langston University (26-5).