CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Second-seeded Mount Mercy and sixth-seeded St. Ambrose battled in a Midwest Collegiate Conference Tournament semifinal on Saturday at Hennessey Recreation Center, but in the end, it was the 12th-ranked Mustangs who advanced to Monday's championship game with a 79-69 victory over the Queen Bees.
Mount Mercy got off to a great start by scoring 10 of the game's first 12 points. By the end of the first period, however, it was St. Ambrose in front after a Lauren Cash layup just before the halftime buzzer. Neither team led by more than three points until the Mustangs moved in front, 66-62, on a bucket by sophomore forward Amanda Frost with 2:08 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Frost extended Mount Mercy's advantage to six, 68-62, with 1:50 remaining.
The Queen Bees quickly cut that in half on a conventional 3-point-play by Annie Smith with 1:38 to go. Seniors Becca Lampe and Laura Lippert teamed up for one of the game's biggest plays on the Mustangs' next possession. Lampe rebounded a miss by senior forward Bria Fields and kicked the ball to Lippert, who knocked down her fourth 3-pointer of the day to make it 71-65 with 1:13 on the clock.
After Smith made 1-of-2 free throws at the other end, senior guard Micha Mims hit a pair of foul shots to give the Mustangs a 73-66 lead with just under a minute to play. A missed 3-pointer and a turnover by St. Ambrose led to a free throw by Lippert and it was 74-66. Smith hit a trey for the final points of the day for the Queen Bees (13-16) and Lampe, Mims and senior guard Emily Greiner knocked down free throws over the final 30 seconds to salt away the win.
Mims scored 16 points in the second half and finished with a team-high 18 for the Mustangs. She also had 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Lippert added 15 points, including 12 after the break, while Greiner ended up with 10 points to go along with four assists and three steals. Fields tallied nine points and eight boards, Frost eight points and seven rebounds and junior guard Brooke Quigley eight points and six boards.
Smith had 19 points and six rebounds for the Queen Bees. Cash chipped in 15 points and five boards, Samantha Saladino 11 points and eight rebounds. Katie Jensen totaled nine points and 11 boards, Katie Schuler nine points and a game-high seven assists. Michelle Charvat also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Monday's matchup between Mount Mercy (25-7) and top-seeded Grand View (27-5) is definitely an interesting one. Both teams are already guaranteed a spot in the NAIA Division II national tournament. The Mustangs have won 10 straight since a 65-61 loss to the Vikings on Jan. 23 in Cedar Rapids. Grand View, on the other hand, hasn't lost in conference play since an 80-63 loss to Mount Mercy on Dec. 3 in Des Moines. The ninth-ranked Vikings have won 17 straight games since a 69-64 non-conference defeat at Trinity International (Ill.) on Dec. 30.
This is Mount Mercy's second MCC championship game in four years under Head Coach Aaron Jennings, whose Mustang squad dropped a 60-53 decision at Iowa Wesleyan in the 2009 title contest. Mount Mercy's 25 wins this season are the most since its last national tournament team went 31-6 and reached the NAIA Division II Final Four in 1994-95.