FRANKFORT, Ky. - Senior Haley Ratliff nailed a three from the right wing with 1:56 left to break at 66-all tie and top-seeded Cumberlands held on down the stretch to knock off No. 2 Shawnee State and win the Mid-South Conference tournament championship 73-70 Sunday afternoon at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Ratliff's triple put the Patriots in front for good, although the Lady Bears pulled within a point on a three-point play by junior Alex Pohl with 24.8 seconds left to make it 71-70.
Senior guard Jade Howard sank two free throws with 19.4 seconds left to make it a three-point game.
Shawnee State (27-5) had two chances to draw even, but missed a three-point shot and was called for a travel. Cumberlands missed a bonus shot with 2.2 seconds left and Shawnee State got a timeout with 0.7 seconds left, but couldn't get a shot off at the horn.
Howard led all scorers with 25 points. "She's a tremendous player and leader, and I only wish I could have had her for four years," Coach Melissa Irvin said of the transfer from West Florida. "She kept her composure and wanted to be the go-to person at the end, and she was."
Cumberlands (28-3), ranked eighth in the country, will take the league's automatic bid into the national tournament, which will begin in the same arena on March 14.
As the nation's No. 7 team, Shawnee State was also assured a bid to the tournament in which it became the first MSC team to reach the semifinals in its first appearance a year ago.
"Shawnee State is an outstanding team, and I think both of us have a chance to make a deep run in the national tournament," said Irvin. "I'd love to play them again in the semifinals or finals."
Cumberlands survived a 40.3 percent shooting day but hitting nine three-point shots and pulling down 19 offensive rebounds in the game. Those three-point shots were the difference: Both teams made 25 field goals and SSU outscored the Patriots by one from the line. But Cumberlands made four more three-point shots in the three-point win.
Howard, who had seven rebounds and five assists, was joined in double figures by conference player of the year Lauren Wombles with 17 to go with nine rebounds. Sophomore Jackie Alexander had 11.
Ratliff, Alexander and Howard made three three-point shots each for Cumberlands in the win.
Shawnee State had four players in double figures, led by all-conference guard Alannah Sheets with 18. She added five rebounds and five assists. Pohl finished with 16 and a game-high nine rebounds.
Junior Allison Nagle scored 12 points and sophomore Tabby McKinney contributed 11.