HICKORY, N.C. -- Freshman Brigitta Barta hit two free throws with 5.3 seconds remaining in regulation to lift eighth-seeded Armstrong Atlantic to a 72-70 win against fourth-seeded North Georgia in the 2014 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional semifinals on Saturday evening at Shuford Gymnasium.
The Pirates (21-7) will match up against seventh-seeded Limestone -- 78-62 winners against sixth-seeded Belmont Abbey in the other region semifinal -- on Monday evening for the right to travel to Erie, Pa., for the NCAA Division II Elite Eight on March 25 North Georgia sees its season come to a close at 23-7.
In a thrilling final seven minutes in which neither team led by more than one possession, the final points came when the Pirates had the ball with 31 seconds left and the score tied at 70-all after Cierra Jackson's baseline layup for the Nighthawks. Armstrong head coach Fala Bullock took a timeout with 15 seconds left, and Tyler Carlson's initial go-ahead shot missed with 10 seconds left on the clock. Mauri Wells secured the offensive rebound and her follow missed the mark, but Barta secured another offensive rebound on the possession and was fouled with 5.3 seconds left.
Barta made both free throws and North Georgia got the ball up the court quickly in time for a last-second 3-point attempt by Kaylee Akin, which missed off the rim to give the Pirates the win. Armstrong will be making its first appearance in an NCAA region final for women's basketball when it faces the Saints on Monday -- a team that the Pirates beat 82-77 in Gaffney, S.C., back on November 23rd.
"If you don't get your initial shot, you need to have time for a putback," Bullock said about the time out. "We wanted to eliminate the opportunity for them to have a possession. We wanted to execute something and if it broke down, have a second chance at it and that's exactly what we got."
North Georgia led by nine points on several occasions in the first half, but Armstrong battled back to cut the lead to two, 35-33, at halftime on fittingly two Barta free throws with three seconds before the break. In the second half, North Georgia led by four as late as 7:12 remaining on a layup by Stephanie Huffman, but Mauri Wells answered with a basket to bring the Pirates to within two, 57-55, with 7:02 remaining.
Two consecutive layups by senior Stephenie Coney gave the Pirates their first lead of the second half, 61-59, with 5:15 left, but PBC player of the year Mimi Hill for North Georgia took the lead back with a 3-pointer with 3:18 left to make the score 66-65 for the Nighthawks. Hill delivered a basket with 1:46 left to put the North Georgia back up by two, but Barta answered with a layup with 1:33 left that tied things up at 68-all.
A missed 3-pointer by Akin followed by a quick basket in transition for Barta gave Armstrong the lead at 70-68 with 50 seconds left, leading to the tying bucket by Jackson and the last-second heroics by Barta and the Pirates.
Barta led the Pirates in scoring for a second consecutive NCAA postseason contest with 19 points on 7 of 14 shooting from the floor and 5 o 7 from the free-throw line and also grabbed nine rebounds, while senior Tyler Carlson had a her first double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds to go with five assists. Dee Hayward added 12 points as well for the Pirates.
Hill led North Georgia with a game-high 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the floor, including 2 of 4 3-pointers, while Stephanie Huffman added 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the floor and a perfect 5 of 5 from the free throw line.
As a team, the Pirates hit 29 of 60 shots from the floor (48.3 percent) while making just 2 of 9 3-pointers (22.2 percent) and 12 of 15 free throws (80 percent). North Georgia hit 25 of 56 shots from the floor (44.6 percent) and 5 of 19 3-pointers (26.3 percent) as well as 15 of 21 shots from the free throw line (71.4 percent). Armstrong enjoyed a 38-31 edge in rebounds as well.