Late arrival: OCU comeback doesn't start soon enough

CIRCLEVILLE - On a cold winter day, it takes an engine awhile at times to get going.

For the Ohio Christian University women's basketball team, it took 27 minutes to get going on Friday.

The second-seeded Trailblazers cut a 21-point deficit down to seven, but third-seeded Maranatha Baptist Bible College held off the run to claim a 80-72 win in a National Christian College Athletic Association Division II national semifinal game. "We're a young team and, honestly, it just seemed like we were a little overwhelmed, especially in the first half," Ohio Christian coach Mandy Wray said. "We just weren't ready.

"In the second half, we realized it was now or never, so we started to push on defense and had some success, but we were just too far behind."

The host Trailblazers (30-7), who finished as national-runner-up a season ago, will play Valley Forge Christian at 5 p.m. today in the third-place final.

"We talked after the game about having an opportunity to finish with a win, which a lot of teams don't get to do," Wray said. "We're obviously disappointed to not be playing in the championship game, it was our goal, but this is a chance for our girls to step up, especially for those who felt like they didn't play as well as they could against (Maranatha Baptist)."

Ohio Christian shot 29.6 percent from the field in the first half and trailed 41-27 at halftime. Maranatha Baptist (12-17) continued to expand its lead in the first seven minutes of the second half and took a 53-32 advantage on a layup by Torey DeLozier.

"On offense, we wanted to be aggressive but when we started to drive and attack the basket and got pressured, we wanted to get rid of the ball," Wray said.

The Trailblazers then rallied back, using their full-court pressure defense to speed up the game and create opportunities to bring their sluggish offense to life.

"They burned us long a couple of times and we didn't have a lot of success when we pressured in the first half, but we regrouped and had to go back with it in the second half," Wray said. "We needed to get something out of it to get back into the game and we did."

OCU cut its deficit to single digits at 73-65 on a three-point play by Sharonda Jones with 1:59 left.

After DeLozier made a free throw, OCU's Angela Throne slashed to the basket for a layup to cut the deficit to 74-67 with 1:18 left.

But Maranatha Baptist managed to work time off the clock and hit its free throws when fouled to hold the Trailblazers off.

DeLozier was 10-of-15 from the field to lead all scorers with 28 points. The Maranatha Baptist forward also pulled down 10 rebounds.

Autumn Peotter chipped in 20 points, Hallie Nelson had 12 and Kristin Morrison added 11 for Maranatha Baptist, which advances to face Kentucky Christian for the national championship.

Jones led the Trailblazers with 19 points, followed by Kaity Wyeth with 17 and Shelby Roe with 10.

The Trailblazers shot 36.6 percent from the field in the second half, doing most of their damage in the last 13 minutes.

OCU lost guard Courtney Schilling late in the first half to an injury, and Wyeth was forced to miss a portion of the second half after going down hard.

"Losing Courtney with three minutes to go in the first half was tough. She is our heart and soul, someone who dictates the tempo," Wray said. "We call her our Energizer bunny.

"That hurt us some, but ultimately it didn't affect the outcome. It came down to execution."