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Minnesota State Mankato dominates Texas Woman’s for second NCAA title

ST. JOSEPH, MO. – The Minnesota State Mankato women's basketball team went from the No. 7 seed in the eight-team Central Region to the Division II national champion.

Natalie Bremer scored 27 points on 9-for-17 shooting, Joey Batt had 10 points, six assists and seven steals and the Mavericks completed their perfect run in NCAA tournament play with an 89-73 victory over Texas Woman's University on Friday night.

Ava Stier added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Emily Herzberg had 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals as the Mavericks (32-5), in their 13th season under coach Emily Thiesse, hounded the Pioneers (34-5) into 30 turnovers, with Batt — a three-time NSIC Defensive Player of the Year — leading the way.

"I just cannot express how proud of this basketball team I am," Thiesse said. "This leadership. I feel like I had the easiest job in the world this year. I could take a back seat and watch this group take the lead and set the tone. I could just go on and on about what this team has done. Game after game, they had the confidence. I'm just so thankful for the families, the alumni, the band, the community, our president, our athletic director.

"The amount of support this program has received not just this year but, all the time. Minnesota State is a special place and I'm just so glad we are able to bring a championship back to the community."

The Mavericks (32-5) began the season 2-4, including a 76-71 loss to Texas Woman's on Nov. 4 in Billings, Mont. That was followed the following weekend with two more losses at St. Joseph Civic Arena, site of this week's Elite Eight. But the Mavericks are 30-1 since, with the only loss coming 92-87 at Northern State on Feb. 17. They ended the season with an 11-game winning streak, including all six in NCAA play.

"I feel like at first when we got the seeding, the 7 seed [in the Central Region], we were like, 'Oh, ouch,' a little bit," Batt said. "Coach went through it with us, how the rankings worked. They based it all off numbers. At the start of the year, we played two of the teams we faced in the regional tournament, and we lost to them. ... We changed our whole mindset of like, 'If anybody beats us, it's because we beat ourselves.' So I think that's really where our chemistry came to an all-time high. Those three regional games were the best ever. We started a good hot streak there."

After getting a last-second layup from Herzberg to beat Cal State San Marcos 70-68 in Wednesday's semifinal, Minnesota State had no need for such dramatics Friday. The Mavericks led 26-13 after one quarter, 46-32 at halftime and 72-48 after three quarters against the Pioneers. Bremer, a sophomore from Lake City, Minn., who scored 29 points Wednesday, scored 16 points in the first half Friday and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after leading Minnesota State in scoring for each game in St. Joseph.

Minnesota State's dynamic full-court press caused problems again. After securing 27 turnovers on Wednesday in the semifinals, the Mavericks forced 30-plus for the 14th time this season. The team entered ranked first in turnover margin (plus-13), and second in turnovers forced per game (28) and steals (17).

Ashley Ingram had 24 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists for Texas Woman's, which was making its first appearance in the championship game. Jada Celsur added 20 points.

It's the second championship in program history. The Mavericks won their other title in 2009 when they beat Franklin Pierce 103-94, the highest-scoring game in D-II championship history.

On the men's side, second-seeded Minnesota State Mankato (34-2) is also playing in the D-II championship game Saturday, facing top-seeded and defending champion Nova Southeastern (32-2) at 2 p.m. in Evansville, Ind., in a game televised on CBS.

The Sharks have won 20 games in a row and are 168-23 in six seasons under coach Jim Crutchfield.

The Mavericks have never won a men's NCAA championship, and no school has swept the men's and women's D-II championships since Central Missouri in 1984.