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Ferrum takes title, awaits NCAA assignment
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Ferrum College’s Shea Smith (20) collides with Maryville (Tenn.) College’s Jordan Ballard (30) as the two compete for possession of the ball. (See More Photos link), Smith defends Maryville’s Lailah Farmer during the second half of Ferrum’s win. (Staff Photos by Steven Marsh)
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Monday, March 3, 2014

By STEVEN MARSH - Sports Editor

FERRUM -- In Saturday's championship game of the USA South Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament, Ferrum College senior Katy Kipps made the nets at William P. Swartz Gymnasium an endangered species.

First, Kipps singed those nets, then she helped cut them down.

Kipps, the Panthers' standout post performer, made 7 of 8 shots from the field, including a jumper from the free-throw line that ended a 4 1/2-minute scoring drought, as Ferrum captured its second conference championship in three years with a 64-50 victory over Maryville (Tenn.) College.

Kipps finished with a team-best 14 points. She was a day removed from a 2 of 10 showing from the field in Ferrum's semifinal-round triumph over Methodist (N.C.) University.

"I guess everyone has bad games, but I knew to just forget that game and start over. (The championship game) was the important game and I needed to concentrate, forget about (the Methodist game) and go back to playing the way I know how to play,' Kipps said.

"Once the first couple of shots go, then I'm good,' said Kipps who was 3 of 3 from the field in the opening 20 minutes and 4 of 5 in the closing stanza.

Ferrum's tournament title is its third in program history and the second the Panthers have claimed by winning three postseason games on its home floor. Since January of 2012, Ferrum is 31-1 at Swartz Gymnasium. The one setback was a three-point defeat in overtime this season that stopped a 21-game winning streak.

Kipps has been around for all 32 of those games.

And there's a good chance that the Panthers (26-2) will open the NCAA Division III tournament at home this weekend because of their standing as the top-ranked team in the South Region.

Ferrum has played national tournament games in Danville, Ky. and Atlanta over the past two seasons.

"It should be here. Teams should have to come to us,' Kipps said.

Ferrum, ranked No. 16 nationally, is the USA South's automatic qualifier, while Maryville (22-6) stands a solid chance of receiving an at-large berth.

The Panthers and the Scots were the top two clubs in the USA South this season -- Ferrum was the champion of the league's North Division and Maryville claimed the South Division. This was the first year that the division format was employed in women's basketball.

The Panthers bested the Scots 75-50 in early January in Tennessee and that win proved to be pivotal in Ferrum's pursuit of tournament hosting privileges.

Maryville's two, 50-point outings against the Panthers were its worst showings of the season.

"We really didn't know what to expect because we'd played them early in the season (the contest was Ferrum's sixth game) so we didn't know how much they'd improved,' Kipps said. "But we were confident going into the game.'

Joining Kipps on the all-tournament team were teammates Jacole Hairston (12 points) and Shea Smith (Franklin County), each of whom finished in double figures.

Smith, who tallied 11 points, was chosen as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. She scored 47 points and passed out 14 assists in three games.

"Everybody kept saying, 'You're going to get (the MVP),' but I was like, 'No, I'm not.' "It feels good. It's crazy, I don't know how to explain it,' Smith said.

Ferrum put itself in position to win the game with an 9-0 run that enabled the Panthers to turn a two-point, 44-42, edge with 10:45 to play into a 53-42 advantage with 7:12 showing.

Smith started that run with a 3-point field goal, then reserve Jessica Rhodes rebounded a Smith miss and converted the rebound into a three-point play.

The run ended when Kayla Goins hit a trey to produce the Panthers' first double-digit lead.

Maryville would close the gap to seven points before Kipps would hit a jumper inside the free-throw line with 2:52 left to settle the issue.

"They were daring me to shoot it,' Kipps said. "I can make (those shots), I usually don't shoot them.

"Usually, we have a high-low (play) there, but they were packing it in in the low post, so I took the shot and hoped that it would go in and it did,' Kipps said.

Maryville didn't reach the 50-point mark until 33 seconds were showing when Lauren Trent, the Scots' lone double-figure scorer with a game-best 15 points, hit her fifth 3-pointer of the game.

Of Trent's 12 attempts from the floor, 11 were from beyond the 3-point arc.

For the game, Maryville was 18 of 66 (27.3 percent) from the field.

Sophomore Mackenzie Puckett, the USA South's Player of the Year and its Rookie of the Year last year, was limited to nine minutes of action and scored two points.

Puckett recently sustained a knee injury and expected to undergo ACL surgery in the offseason.

Maryville freshman Mindy Brackins tore her ACL in her team's regular-season finale and the team also has lost sophomore Linley Dunn for the remainder of the year because of an injury.

Trent, Jordan Ballard and Lauren Burnett were named to the all-tournament team from Maryville.

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