Kansas City, MO – The Dalton State Roadrunners advanced to the NAIA Championship Game with a Fab Four victory over Talladega, 64-54 Monday night.
The Roadrunners are the first team since Science & Arts (Okla.) in 2001 to advance to the National Championship Game as a newcomer. A great crowd of supporters from Dalton gathered for the game and Dalton State cheerleaders kept them fired up.
It will be Dalton State and unranked Westmont from Santa Barbara, Calif in the Tuesday night championship game. The Warriors (24-10) clipped top-seed Hope International in the other Fab Four game, 70-69. The Royals (31-3) had defeated Westmont in two previous contests.
A back-and-forth first half between the Roadrunners and the Hurricanes included eight lead changes and six ties. The teams then headed to the locker room tied at 29 thanks to an unbelievable (if I had not seen it for myself) prayer three-pointer with the shot clock winding down at the 53 second mark.
Talladega started the second half with a quick five-point scoring burst to lead, 34-29. After the Tornadoes went on to a 46-40 lead at the 8:14 mark, the Roadrunners went on a 13-2 run – punctuated by a pair of threes from junior guard Anthony Hilliard – to go up by five, 53-48 with 2:28 remaining.
Dalton State sank 11-of-12 free throws over the next 1:35 to earn the 64-54 victory.
Preston Earle tallied 16 points and eight rebounds. He hit 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Anthony Hilliard scored 14, Burrey scored 10 points , Sean Tate ended up with nine points and three assists. He hit 8-of-10 from the foul line. Jordan Bowling was held to two points.
“Anthony Hilliard was huge,” Coach Tony Ingle said. “He’s a very opportunistic player and when he’s on he’s on. Thank goodness he was because it was a game of inches tonight.
“Our guys stayed focused and perservered,” Ingle added. “We are usually pretty good under pressure and tonight we were great late in the game. It’s about the team. We won on Saturday having one point and three boards. Jamaine came up big tonight off the bench. Rico (Jerrico Williams) played well off of the bench. Our bench really helped us tonight.
Shondell Stewart had a double double for Talladega (31-5) with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Ingle was asked about taking his hometown team to the national championwhip game. “It means a lot,” he said. “We are Dalton’s team and I am so proud to be a part of it.”
Ingle was asked if he believe this would happen so quickly. “I honestly did,” he replied. “I came here expecting to compete for a national championship. I knew if we could get Ladaris Green, Sean Tate, Preston Earle and Anthony Hilliard we could win. Jordan Bowling was a surprise for us. Where were we going to go if didn’t believe we could get here? We believed that if we had the talent we would have the support and the resources to get us here.”
Dalton State Sports Media