- Jay Morrison Staff Writer
The Wright State women are heading back to the Horizon League tournament championship game for the third time in five years.
Symone Simmons registered nine of her 12 points in the fourth quarter, and Horizon League Player of the Year Chelsea Welch scored a team-high 17 as the third-seeded Raiders rallied from eight down to upset No. 2 IUPUI 60-52 in the semifinals Monday night at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit.
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“Everytime anyone asks me ‘Who was the difference in the game,’ it’s always Symone Simmons,” WSU coach Katrina Merriweather said. “Symone Simmons is our X-factor. When she can rebound the way that she did, when she can knock down a couple of 3s, when she can aggressively attack the basket and sit down and defend, Symone is very difficult to handle.”
In addition to her nine points, Simmons grabbed five of her team-high 10 rebounds in the final quarter, including an offensive one after a Welch miss with 20 seconds remaining, sending WSU (23-9) into Tuesday’s 12 p.m. championship game against top-seed Green Bay.
Welch had a huge fourth quarter as well, recording eight of her 17 points, four of her five steals and one of her career-high four blocks as WSU outscored IUPUI 26-12.
After trailing by as many as eight and only scoring 20 points in the first half, the Raiders cut the deficit to one three times in the third quarter with possession of the ball and a chance to take their first lead. But each time the Jaguars (22-9) got a stop and ended up pushing the lead back to eight.
“I about lost it when we couldn’t make a shot for a few possessions,” Merriweather said. “I think we all were a little antsy, all getting a little uncomfortable there. But they locked in.”
The Raiders finally took their first lead on a Lexi Smith bucket in the paint with 5:46 to go. IUPUI went back in front on its next trip down the floor, but a Simmons layup 10 seconds later put WSU in front for good.
“I knew once we took that lead, we weren’t giving it up at all,” Welch said. “Once we get on a roll, it’s hard to stop us.”
IUPUI’s Danielle Harding hit a 3-pointer to get the Jaguars within 54-52 with 1:15 to go, but Welch recorded three steals in the final 46 seconds and scored six points in the final 14 seconds to set off the celebration.
Emily Vogelpohl added 11 points, four steals and three assists, while Mackenzie Taylor, the Sunday star with a career-high 22 points in an 83-61 quarterfinal win against Cleveland State, also scored 11.
Smith added eight points and eight rebounds.
“What a great team win, where we had all of our players contribute one way or another, no matter how few minutes they played,” Merriweather said. “It gave me a chance to rest some of our starters. We have a group that was very, very committed today to the gameplan and a team that was very focused, one that knew exactly what we were playing for. I’m just very, very proud of their effort and their commitment to the goals they have set.”
Wright State will be making its fifth appearnce in the Horizon League championship game. The Raiders won the tournament in 2014 and were runners-up in 2005, 2008 and 2015.
The Phoenix will be playing in their eighth consecutive HL championship game. They’ve won six of the past seven and 12 of 16 titles.
Green Bay is 61-4 against Wright State all-time, including 24 of the last 25, with the lone loss coming in the 2014 HL championship game.
“We knew coming in that we’d have to face them at some point,” Taylor said. ” We always play them really tight, and somehow they just always pull away at the end.”
“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” she added. “We’re going to enjoy this win, then get back to the grind. Tomorrow it’s just going to come down to whoever’s tougher.”