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Lady Wolves win region crown in OT

CLINTON – Co-Lin sophomore forward Rachel Vigers is recognizedfor her aggressive rebounding efforts on the backboards. She pulleddown two big rebounds in the final 13 seconds of overtime Thursdaynight, helping the Co-Lin Lady Wolves hold off the Baton RougeCommunity College Lady Bears 78-75 in the championship finals ofthe NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.

The victory vaults No. 3 nationally-ranked Co-Lin (28-1) to theNational Tournament in Salina, Kan., March 16-20. It will beCo-Lin’s first national appearance since 2007 when the Lady Wolvesfinished fourth.

In the men’s region finals last night, East Mississippi defeatedItawamba 78-64 to advance to the nationals..

Vigers, a strong 5-foot-9 leaper, managed to avoid her fifthpersonal foul in the final 12 minutes of action on Mike Jones Courtin Mississippi College’s A.E. Wood Coliseum. Her free throw witheight seconds left to play gave Co-Lin a 3-point, 78-75 advantage.She had rebounded a miss by teammate Latoria Holder, leapingbetween two Baton Rouge players.

“I always try to get the free throw rebound before the others,”said Vigers. “I was praying the last five minutes.”

The game was sent into overtime when Holder cashed in a drivinglayup with 13 seconds left in regulation, tying the score at67-all. Teammate Shareka Hunt stole a Baton Rouge pass in thetransition but another turnover, one of 24 by Co-Lin, gave theBears a long-distance shot at the buzzer that sailed wide of thebackboard.

Holder led a quintet in double digits with 17 points. Guard NadiaCollins came off the bench to sack 14 points, including threetreys. Vigers and Hunt each scored 12 points in the hard-foughtstruggle.

“We stuck in there and kept hustling,” said a happy Holder. “Itfeels excellent to get to Kansas.”

Baton Rouge (22-8), ranked No. 24 nationally, had lost itsfirst-ever game to Co-Lin 84-57,in the Southwest Classic, Nov. 2.The all-freshman team made steady improvement under the guidance ofCoach Michael Landers and nearly pulled off a major upset in theregion final. The Bears had lost leading scorer Kiara Etienne to aknee injury in Monday’s win over Northwest.

“Co-Lin is the best program in Region 23 and they’re known forgreat teams,” said Landers. “Our kids fought and played themtoe-to-toe. They had a lot of heart. Our future is bright.”

Landers saw his team leading the Wolves by five points, 58-53, on aspin move by hot-shooting G.G. Williams and a free throw byChassity Smith, with 8:37 left to play. Williams poured in agame-high 28 points.

Co-Lin coach Gwyn Young called a timeout to compose his team.

“We survived foul trouble and turnovers,” said Young who won hissixth regional crown. “Our girls played hard and our bench steppedup. Nadia did a good job the whole tournament. Rokeiya (Adams)couldn’t go tonight,” because of a sprained left ankle sustained inWednesday’s semifinals against Itawamba.

Co-Lin regained the lead at 63-62 on a pair of free throws bysouthpaw Simmons with 3:44 left in regulation. The Bears struggledat the free throw line and went 9-for-23 compared to Co-Lin’s25-for-36.

Young’s team had lost in the finals of last year’s regional to EastMississippi after a disappointing loss to Jones County in the statetournament. Jones County had proved a spoiler again last week,handing Co-Lin another defeat in the state tourney finals.

Young said he was happy for his team. “I felt like we could do somespecial stuff this year. They all worked hard to improve.”

Asked about Vigers and her clutch rebounds, Young said, “Rachel gotus some big rebounds by just gutting it out. She said she was goingto get the balls. She just took it away from them.”

Vigers and Holder were named to the All-Tournament team.