No. 17 Tigers dominate No. 4 Pitt State
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Senior Keriann Shaw had one primary task on Saturday for the Fort Hays State University women's basketball team. Her job was to keep tabs on Pittsburg State University's Lizzy Jeronimus, one of the MIAA's top scoring threats, with the conference lead up for grabs.
Not only did Shaw perform remarkably, holding Jeronimus to 13 points on 4 of 14 shooting, the entire Tiger roster matched Shaw's output and No. 17 FHSU cruised to a 62-43 win over No. 4 PSU at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
"She might be the best scorer, but Keriann is the best defender. So I would take that matchup any day," FHSU senior Kate Lehman said. "When Keri won't let you touch the ball, you get frustrated. I think holding her to 13 points was pretty incredible and Keri gets mad props for that."
The win more than validated FHSU's arrival in the top 25 this week, but made it clear a MIAA title is much more than a child's dream for the Tigers. FHSU (18-1 overall, 10-0 MIAA), now has won 17 straight games and remains the lone unbeaten in conference play, one game ahead of No. 2 Emporia State University (16-1, 9-1), which hosts FHSU on Wednesday.
The Tigers' 17-game win streak is the second longest in school history, a 23-game win streak having occurred between the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons, in which FHSU won the NAIA national title.
"I think it's a lot easier now than it would have been if we would have got beat," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said of playing at ESU. "Our excitement level is running pretty high and I think our kids are starting to believe, regardless of what I tell them every day in practice, that they aren't bad. We just have to remain with an even keel. You are never as good as you think you are after a game like this and if you lose the game you are usually not that bad."
And right now FHSU looks near to untouchable, especially at home. PSU entered Saturday's game ranked No. 2 behind FHSU in points per game (77.5) and No. 2 in field goal percentage behind ESU (.446). But with Shaw keyed in on Jeronimus, who averages nearly 20 points a game, and Lehman's continually disruptive presence in the post, FHSU held the Gorillas to 27.9 percent shooting (17 of 61), including a 4 of 20 performance from the 3-point line.
"I think we've had several times where we might have played a half, here or there, that was that good. But to string two halves like that together against these guys was just remarkable by our team," Hobson said. "I thought we played about as good as we could today. Kate got loose a little more than I thought she might."
Lehman took care of her end, finishing with a game-high 21 points and 14 rebounds with three blocks, and made history in the process. She entered the game tied with Annette Wiles (1987-91) in all-time career rebounds at FHSU, but now holds the top spot by herself with 975 career boards.
Wiles also is FHSU's career scoring leader with 2,407 points, Lehman currently sitting in fourth with 1,654 points. Lehman needs just three points to tie Petrece Faulkner (1989-93) for third and 137 to match Shauna Porter (1997-01) for second. Saturday's game also was Lehman's 50th career double-double.
Saturday's contest with PSU was never close, the Tigers jumping out to a 12-2 lead. Not only did Shaw do her job on Jeronimus, she scored 10 points -- only four off her career high -- in the first half to lead the Tigers to a 34-22 advantage at the break.
"Their focus was inside with Kate, outside with Chelsea (Mason). And you have to have two or three other kids step up and play and I thought we did that well today," Hobson said. "If we hold someone to 43, I'll take us anytime because I think we can score more than that. Keriann will sleep well tonight. She did an excellent job on Jeronimus."
PSU would get no closer than 12 points in the second half at 42-30, FHSU giving the Gorillas little hope they ever had a chance at making it a competitive game.
In addition to Lehman's 21 points, FHSU received 16 from sophomore Jill Faxon on 7 of 9 shooting. Shaw finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Jeronimus was the only player in double figures for Pitt State.
The FHSU win snapped a three-game losing streak to Pittsburg State, dating back to a 72-61 win over No. 11 PSU on Feb. 22, 2012, in Hays. It was the Tigers' first win over a top 5 team since defeating No. 3 Emporia State last season, 72-57.
Wednesday's game against No. 2 ESU will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Emporia.
"It will be a lot more impressive if we come out Wednesday and kick Emporia's butt, too. But it was a really great win," Lehman said of beating PSU for the first time since her freshman season. "Their gym is probably the only one that is comparable to our gym in terms of being tough to play. It's old. They have a good home crowd. It will be loud. It's a weird place to play. This win will mean a lot more if we can back it up at Emporia."