BILLINGS -- Wes Keller looked at the scouting report and made a decision.
Rocky Mountain College would defend top-ranked Freed-Hardeman hard in the paint.
“And they go 10 for 28 from 3-point range,” the Battlin’ Bears coach said.
The versatile Lady Lions used six 3-pointers by Carrie Hatchell to hold off Rocky Mountain College 62-52 in the first round of the NAIA Division I Women’s National Basketball Tournament Wednesday night at Rimrock Auto Arena.
Hatchell finished with 18 points.
Freed-Hardeman (34-0), the only undefeated team in the tournament, has reached the semifinals three of the last four years.
It is the second year in a row Freed-Hardeman opened with a win against a team from the Frontier Conference. The Lady Lions defeated Carroll 51-44 in 2016.
Rocky Mountain finishes 13-19. As the host team, the Battlin’ Bears are guaranteed a spot in the 2018 national tournament in Billings.
Freed-Hardeman came to Billings beating teams by an average of 30 points a game.
“We had nothing to lose. We gave it everything we had,” Rocky sophomore Alecia Chamberlin said. “Looking forward, knowing we can stick with the top-ranked team gives us hope. We should be better next year.”
Hailee Farstveet led Rocky with 21 points, matching her career high. Markaela Francis added 12 points and Chamberlin 10.
The Battlin’ Bears finished 15 of 16 from the free-throw line and had 12 offensive rebounds. They also had two fewer turnovers than the No. 1 team in the country.
“The girls played extremely hard,” Keller said. “We crashed the offensive glass very, very well and we shot free throws well. But at the end of the day, we shot 27 percent from the field.”
Freed-Hardeman led from start to finish and opened a 23-10 lead after one quarter.
Rocky got within seven, 32-25, early in the third quarter after a Farstveet 3-pointer. Hatchell hit three timely 3-pointers in the second half.
“She’s a really good shooter,” Chamberlin said. “We wanted to shut everybody else down and she kind of got lost in our defense.”
Kim Mallory added a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Lady Lions, and Sandrea Sylman had 11 points. Senior guard Taleeah Cross, the two-time American Midwest Conference player of the year, was limited to seven points, 10 below her average.
“They are very balanced, very quick and very athletic,” Keller said of Freed-Hardeman. “Their guards can drive and finish. We wanted to keep them out of the paint and they hit 10 of 28 3-pointers. It’s kind of pick your poison.
“It’s good for the returnees to be able to experience this (national tournament). I hope it gives them the drive and motivation to improve in the offseason and become better players.”
NOTES: Rocky is 0-2 at the national tournament. The Battlin’ Bears lost to St. Ambrose (Iowa) 85-65 in 1988 … the Battlin’ Bears were without three players – Keisha Engelhardt, Mikayla Jones and Taylor Deaton – due to season-ending knee injuries. Engelhardt, the team’s leading scorer, was injured at practice two days before the national tournament pairings were announced.