ATHENS, Tenn. - No. 2 seed Union punched its ticket to the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament with a 55-50 victory over host and top-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan in the Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament title game Monday.
The win gives the Lady Bulldogs (25-7 overall) their fourth AAC Tournament crown, first since 2008.
"For me, I've been there before. What I'm most happy about is that our seniors are getting to end their careers at the national tournament," said Union head coach Tim Curry. "(Going to nationals) will make all the blood, sweat and tears they poured out the last four years worth it."
The national tournament will be held in Sioux City, Iowa, March 7-13. The bracket will be announced Wednesday.
AAC Player of the Year Lindsey Waters (Stearns, Ky.) did not have her best game, held to seven points and 10 rebounds. However, Union got help from others to push it to the championship.
Senior Kara Pile (Fairdale, Ky.) scored a game-high 16 points, while Laura Perkins (Myra, Ky.) netted a season-high 15 points. Marah Rice (Scottsville, Ky.) also came through with a season-high, scoring 11 points.
Early on, things did not look good for Union as it did not score its first points until the 14:34 mark. Tennessee Wesleyan took advantage of the Lady Bulldogs' struggles, building a 20-4 cushion with 9:01 to go in the first half.
Down 26-12, Rice caught fire, draining three 3-pointers in a row and adding a layup to pull Union within 29-23. Leah Frazier scored during the final minute of the period to give Tennessee Wesleyan a 31-23 halftime edge.
Union came out of the break still rolling, scoring the first six points to cut the margin to 31-29 with 16:53 to go. Tennessee Wesleyan answered back with a 7-2 rally, capped by a Michelle Davis 3-pointer to make it 38-31 with 14:42 remaining. Union punched back with a 12-0 run, taking its first lead at 8:27 off a Perkins layup. Perkins followed that up with a 3-pointer to lift Union to a 43-38 advantage with 7:46 to play.
Not ready to quit, Tennessee Wesleyan clawed its way back, taking a 48-47 lead off a Cody Houck 3-pointer. After Waters reclaimed a one-point lead for Union, Davis hit a bucket to put the hosts up 50-49 with 1:17 to go.
Alyson Roberts (Baxter, Tenn.) then put Union up for good with 23-footer for a 52-50 lead with 49 seconds remaining. Tennessee Wesleyan had opportunities to try to tie the score, but it missed two front-ends of a bonus situation and turned the ball over once. Meanwhile, Union hit 3-of-4 free throws in the waning moments to wrap up the 55-50 victory and the AAC Tournament Championship.
"I told the girls before the game that this game was going to be about competing and putting yourself in the best position to win," said Curry. "We showed incredible resilience to stick with it and battle back tonight."
Houck and Davis paced Tennessee Wesleyan with 14 points apiece.
Union finished the game, making 43.8 percent of its shots from the floor (21-of-48 shots) and from 3-point range (7-of-16).
Tennessee Wesleyan shot 17.2 percent (5-of-29) in the second half to finish at 31 percent (18-of-58) for the game. It hit 27.8 percent (5-of-18) from long range. Tennessee Wesleyan did outrebound Union 37-34.