STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- The second national semifinal at the NCAA Division III championships nearly turned into a two-on-two battle. While Wisconsin-Whitewater's Amy Mandrell and Mary Merg kept scoring points, ultimately Heather Johns and Sarah Anderegg's Whitman squad pulled away for an 85-70 victory to advance to Saturday's national championship game for the first time in school history.
Wisconsin-Whitewater (26-5) slowly pulled out to a 17-12 first half lead behind six points from Amy Mandrell, before Whitman (31-1) responded. Trailing 20-16, the Missionaries scored 11 consecutive points, capped by a Heather Johns 3-pointer that lit up Quandt Fieldhouse. Whitman lead 27-20 before the Warhawks' Mary Merg drilled back-to-back three-pointers to cut Whitman's lead to 29-26. But another 3-pointer by Johns sparked a 12-2 Whitman run and the Missionaries went into halftime leading 41-30.The Warhawks' Kristen Ruchti scored a basket, sandwhiched between a pair of Mandrell hoops to get Wis.-Whitewater within seven points at 43-36 early in the second half, but that was as close as they would ever get again. When the Warhawks were back within seven points with 7:58 to go at 60-53, the Missionaries blew out on a 14-6 run for a 74-59 advantage and never looked back. Johns scored the final five points on that run on her way to a career-high 33 points.
After Johns' outburst, Anderegg went 11-for-14 from the free throw line to finish with 21 points, and added 12 rebounds for a double-double. Meghan White also had 12 rebounds to go with 10 points for a double-double of her own. Hailey Ann Maeda scored 10 points off the bench for the Missionaries who shot 49.2 percent from the field, and 21-for-25 at the free throw line.
Wis.-Whitewater received a huge game from Mandrell who scored 30 points on 12-for-17 shooting and also grabbed 12 rebounds. Ten of Mandrell's 12 rebounds were on the offensive end. Merg scored 21 points, while Kaitlyn Thill had a game-high six assists. The Warhawks turned the ball over just 10 times, but shot 33.3 percent from the field.
Whitman will face FDU-Florham (32-0), who advanced earlier in the evening with a 42-39 victory against Tufts, in Saturday's national championship game. Both schools will be seeking their first national title in women's basketball.