By Ryan Clark

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Jessica Keller did not want to see her career come to an end.

Caught in a second half battle with the sixth-seeded Drury Panthers, the No. 3-seed Quincy Lady Hawks looked to Keller, the Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year, to take control.

The senior guard did just that, scoring 15 points and dishing out four assists in a 66-56 Lady Hawk victory in the first round of the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional at Northern Kentucky University.

The Lady Hawks (27-4) advance to the semifinals to face the winner of the day’s second matchup between No. 7 seed Indianapolis and No. 2 seed Hillsdale.

Keller, who was held under her season average of 20 points per game, had a lot of help, specifically from sophomore forward Courtney Shuman, who finished with 17 points and 19 rebounds – 12 of those on the offensive end. Junior forward Janette Burgin chipped in 16 points and 11 rebounds.

“I don’t think there were nerves or jitters,” Keller said. “We’ve played all year up and down. Whether it’s the first half or the second half, we’ve always had that five-minute lapse in games. We’ve got to figure that out for the next game. I think it was more or less we had to come in here and work well as a team, and that’s how we finished the game, working as a team.”

Quincy, ranked No. 9 in the USA Today/ESPN Division II poll, took their first lead at 3-2, but did not lead again until there was less than eight minutes to play. Drury (19-10) used their quickness and pressure to try and offset Quincy’s sizeable height advantage. But the Lady Panthers couldn’t hold on, losing the rebounding battle 46-42.

“We were pretty worried about having to play them,” said Quincy Head Coach J.D. Gravina. “You’re always just really excited to advance. In the second half of the year, most of our games were close in the second half.”

Trailing 31-26 at intermission, Quincy tied the game four times to open the second half, with the help of two assists and three baskets by Keller. After a turnaround jumper by junior forward Janette Burgin and a three-pointer by senior guard Alex Roznowski, Quincy retook the lead, 52-49. They never gave up the lead again, using a 10-0 run to blow the game open.

“We played a near-perfect first half from the standpoint of executing the game plan,” said Drury Head Coach Steve Harold. “Maybe 13’s an unlucky number. It’s Friday the 13th and we were 13-0 (when leading) at halftime.”

But Harold lamented his team’s lack of controlling the ball, pointing out they had 17 turnovers in the second half. Still, Drury is also a relatively young team, with no seniors on the squad – unlike Quincy, which is led by three seniors and six juniors.

“(Quincy is) a team with a couple veterans there that understand the word finality,” Harold said. “If you don’t win, it’s over. My team, we don’t have seniors, and I don’t know if we ever truly understood the idea that if you lose you’re done.”

Quincy’s Shuman, playing far above her head as a sophomore, understood all too well.

“We didn’t want to go home, so we sent them home,” she said. Shuman said the team’s defense picked up in the second half, and she was surprised afterward to hear she had 12 offensive rebounds.

“Twelve alone would probably be my (career) high,” she said. “Having 19 is pretty awesome.”

Quincy will play the Indianapolis/Hillsdale winner in a semifinal game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Northern Kentucky University.