ST. CHARLES, Mo. - The No. 7 seeded Drake Bulldogs (18-14) held off a late charge by the No. 3 seeded Wichita State Shockers (19-12) on Saturday afternoon to win 56-52 in the semifinals of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Drake has won three games in three days and will now face the Creighton Bluejays (19-12) in the championship game at Family Arena on Sunday at 2:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest.
Three Bulldogs scored in double figures, led by senior Rachael Hackbarth (Colgate, Wis.) who scored 15 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. Hackbarth, who earlier in the week was named the MVC Player of the Year, has now collected 24 doubles-doubles this season, which leads the nation. Two freshmen joined Hackbarth in double digits, Kyndal Clark (Webb City, Mo.) with 14 points and Carly Grenfell (York, Neb.) with 11 points, including hitting three-for-three from the three-point line.
"Just a gritty, gritty performance by our team today," Drake head coach Amy Stephens said. "Anytime we have held people in the 50s we've given ourselves a chance to win games. Our defense and our rebounding is what won it."
Drake started the game strong taking an 8-2 lead going into the first media timeout. Clark and Grenfell each knocked down treys and Amber Wollschlager (Millbank, S.D) added a jumper.
The Bulldogs were not done hitting shots as they used a 16-2 run over six minutes to build a 30-12 lead with 4:08 left in the half. WSU closed the half on a 6-0 run to cut the Drake lead to 30-18 at halftime. The Bulldogs never trailed in the game.
Out of halftime, Wichita State and Drake traded buckets until freshman Liza Heap (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) knocked down a jumper to push the lead to 18 points at 45-27. The Shockers slowly chipped away, getting the deficit all the way to one point, 53-52, with 1:10 left in the game after Jessica Diamond drained a three-pointer.
Drake would not back down though as Wollschlager pulled down a rebound off a missed wide-open layup by WSU freshman Alex Harden, who had forced a steal. Harden immediately fouled Wollschlager and the senior knocked down one-of-two from the line.
With 26 seconds left, Heap forced a steal but the Bulldogs committed a turnover to give WSU a chance to tie the game. Jazimen Gordon missed a jumper from the baseline and the ball went out of bounds to Drake.
The Shockers immediately fouled Clark on the inbounds and the freshman calmly knocked down both free throws to extend the lead to 56-52 with five second left. WSU turned the ball over and the Bulldogs held on to win, 56-52.
Haleigh Lankster led WSU with 15 points and Diamond added 11 points. Harden had nine points.
Drake will play No. 4 seeded Creighton on the five-year anniversary of the Bulldogs' last MVC Championship, which also came against Creighton. No. 8 seeded Drake defeated No. 6 seeded Creighton, 65-64 in overtime at the Knapp Center in 2008. The game was the last non-neutral conference tournament. The game featured a five-point play.
"Love the opportunity," Stephens said. "We are excited to be in the championship game. We are going to come in prepared and excited to play. We don't care who it is. We would play Tennessee tomorrow if we could. We just want an opportunity to compete."
Drake was able to win despite making their last field goal of the game with 5:52 left. The Bulldogs hit 6-of-11 free throws and committed six turnovers but were able to hold on for the win and give them an opportunity tomorrow to claim on automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
"This is an unreal experience especially for the seniors on the team," Hackbarth said. "Just the feeling that we have on this team, the chemistry and the way we grind out and play for each other. We never quit. Anything is possible right now for us."