LUBBOCK, Texas — Three Rivers' dream season ended one day too soon.
Propelled by a 16-3 run, fifth-seeded Northwest Florida State ended Three Rivers' undefeated season with a 71-63 win in the NJCAA National Tournament semifinals in Lubbock, Texas.
"We've been through so much, and we've worked really hard. It just stinks. It hurts," said Region XVI Player of the Year Chaylea Mosby. "The support that we've had has been amazing. There was a third-grade class in Dexter that watched my game during their class (Thursday). Just a lot of people have been reaching out to me; everybody has been posting things on social media about us. It has just been amazing."
The ninth-seeded Raiders were the last undefeated team in the tournament and led by seven points early in the fourth quarter, but they were outscored 24-9 the rest of the way.
This is the fourth time overall and the second time in three years they've made it to the national tournament, and first time they've reached the final four.
"These girls have done a lot of work, not just for women's basketball at Three Rivers, but basketball period," Three Rivers coach Alex Wiggs said.
When the Raiders (24-1) left the gym, dozens of the Raider faithful were waiting.
"It was just a good feeling to see people still smiling because everyone else is still frowning," Myia Yelder said. "To get hugs from everybody, from parents you've probably never talked to before, you're still getting a hug. It felt good to know we had all that support here cheering for us."
"I can't even think about leaving. I love the Raiders," Yelder said. "I do have a few higher things, but I feel like my heart is in Poplar Bluff. It's kind of hard, I don't know yet."
Joi Montgomery led the Raiders in the semifinals with 14 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, and three steals to lead the Raiders in all four categories. She had six of the team's 10 offensive rebounds and drew nine fouls.
Yelder, who was 3 for 7 on 3-pointers, finished with 12 points. Haywood also had 12 points after going 5 for 8 at the foul line. Mosby drew seven fouls and got eight points on 50% shooting.
"I thought our girls gave everything they had tonight," Wiggs said. "For them to come out and battle the way they did, I couldn't be prouder of this group."
Northwest Florida State (23-2) shot 65% in the first half but committed 14 turnovers, and the Raiders trailed 35-29 at halftime.
Between the start and end of the third quarter, Northwest Florida State's shooting plummeted 12% after it went 4 for 12 from the field.
The Raiders allowed three points in the final 5 minutes of the quarter and went on a 15-4 run during that time.
Northwest Florida State hit the bonus with about 3 minutes left and the aggressive Raiders drew eight fouls during that stretch.
After starting the game 10 for 13 on free throws, the Raiders were 7 for 15 while in the bonus in the third quarter.
It was still enough to give them a 52-47 lead entering the fourth.
Northwest Florida State committed 22 turnovers through three quarters but made just four more in the fourth. It was still the third most turnovers it has committed in a game this season. It also committed a season-high 28 fouls.
Jamiyah Thomas drew an early foul in the fourth quarter and made both free throws to give the Raiders their biggest lead of the game.
But Northwest Florida State answered with a 16-3 run.
Last-Tear Poa, Kynadi Kuykendool and Masengo Mutanda each made a 3 in a little over a minute to retake the lead.
Yelder swished a 3 with 6 minutes left in the game to put the Raiders ahead by a point one last time. Her 3 was the team's only field goal during an 8-minute stretch going back into the third quarter.
Montgomery got a steal and a basket off an inbounds pass with under 4 minutes to go that got the Raiders within four, but they wouldn't get another field goal until Mosby's layup with 5 seconds left that set the final score.
"We never stopped playing. That's all I can think about is how hard we went and still didn't get the result we wanted," Yelder said. "I told the team we played a good game, and we played hard. They just got a few more offensive possessions than us and scored on them."
Northwest Florida State shot 52.2% on free throws, its second-worst performance of the season, but was 5 for 6 in the final minute, with Mutanda going 4 for 4.
Mutanda led Northwest Florida State with 18 points. Chanaya Pinto was 6 for 7 from the field in the first half, but 0 for 4 in the second and finished with 12 points.
Shelbee Brown and Ines Piper each had 11.
Three Rivers shot 33.9% from the field, while Northwest Florida State shot 51.0%. The Raiders were 6 for 28 (21.4%) on 3-pointers, their second-lowest percentage of the season, while Northwest Florida State was 7 for 17 (41.2%).
Three Rivers finished with a season-low seven assists.
"Hats off to their program, to their team. They made a few more stops down the stretch than us. They had ladies step up and made some big-time shots down the stretch," Wiggs said.
While Northwest Florida State committed 10 more turnovers than the Raiders, it was still plus-7 in points off turnovers.
Three Rivers got the game's opening basket after Northwest Florida State forgot to guard Thomas under the basket, and she caught a long pass for an easy finish.
Three Rivers didn't lead again until Haywood drove and scored with seven seconds left in the quarter.
Montgomery got a layup to tie the game at 22 with 5 minutes left in the half.
Three Rivers forced back-to-back steals in the final minute but failed to turn them into points. Then Northwest Florida State got a steal and a two-on-one break to score with two seconds left and went into halftime up six, matching its biggest lead of the first half.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic