The Riverland Community College Blue Devils women’s basketball team, winners of five in a row took on 24-0 and No. 1 ranked Rochester Community and Technical College in the Region XIIIA Tournament championship game at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids Sunday, and it was the Blue Devils, who had fallen twice to the Yellowjackets in the regular season scoring the upset by the score of 67-60 to earn the automatic national qualifying bid from Region XIIIA.
The Blue Devils, who defeated Central Lakes College from Brainerd 71-62 Saturday to earn a berth in the championship game trailed 16-14 at the end of one quarter of play when Savannah Longhoma, who led Riverland in scoring Sunday with 20 points drained a 3-pointer with 9:46 left in the second quarter to give the Blue Devils a 17-16 lead. After RCTC worked their way in front by a score of 24-18, Laura Granada, who played 24 minutes off the bench for the Blue Devils Sunday drained a 3-pointer to cut the Yellowjacket lead to 24-21 with 7:25 left in the quarter, and a jumper from Cayli Miles and a layup from former Austin Packer Reana Schmitt made the score 26-25 with 5:59 left. A layup from RCTC’s Danika Jones later gave the Yellowjackets a 29-25 lead, but a free throw from Schmitt and another 3-pointer from Longhoma with :13 seconds left in the half knotted the score at 29 apiece at the halftime break.
The two squads then battled back and forth through the third quarter when, with the Blue Devils trailing 40-38, a jumper from Nora Mecoleta kicked off a 9-0 run to put Riverland in the lead for good, it would turn out, at 47-40. With the score in favor of the Blue Devils at 47-42 at the end of three quarters, the Yellowjackets edged to as close at two points at 48-46 on a layup from Myia Ruzek with 8:01 left in the fourth quarter, but layups from Schmitt and Longhoma, plus a jumper from Kenai Holien with 4:28 left boosted Riverland’s lead back to eight at 54-46. A 3-pointer from Macie Werdel with 3:37 left gave the Blue Devils a 57-46 lead, and another 3-pointer from Longhoma with 3:04 left in the game capped off a 12-0 run to give Riverland a 60-46 lead. The Yellowjackets were able to get as close as six points at 64-58 on a 3-pointer from Ruzek with :30 seconds left, but RCTC was forced to foul to stop the clock, and free throws from Longhoma, Schmitt and Granada helped the Blue Devils ice the win in the closing seconds.
Besides Longhoma’s 20 points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal, Schmitt tallied a double-double for the Blue Devils with 15 points and 17 boards, Kenai Holien, Nora Mecoleta and Laura Granada all scored nine points apiece, Maci Werdel tallied three points and Cayli Miles scored two points in the win on Sunday.
Riverland will carry a record of 21-5 into the 2023 NJCAA Divison III Women’s Basketball National Championships, which will be played at the Rochester Regional Sports Center March 13th through the 18th.