FRANKFORT — The tie-breaker goes to Cumberlands.
The Lady Patriots captured the Mid-South Conference Tournament championship Sunday, edging Shawnee State 73-70 at the Frankfort Convention Center.
The teams split games and the regular-season title with 14-2 records in MSC play.
With Sunday's win, Cumberlands laid claim to the MSC's automatic berth in the NAIA nationals, to be played at the same site March 14-20. However, both teams were locks for the nationals even before Sunday.
"We did know that," Patriots Coach Melissa Irvin said. "But a championship's a championship ... and for us at the University of the Cumberlands to do this three times out of four years, that's something special."
Eighth-ranked Cumberlands (28-3) was led by Jade Howard with 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
"Coach expected me to step up," said Howard, a 5-foot-5 senior point guard. "She said when they cut it close, just take over, try not to turn over the ball. We made a few mistakes, but we were able to overcome it as a team and stick together, and hit free throws when it mattered, to win."
MSC Player of the Year Lauren Wombles added 17 points and eight rebounds.
"I came in with a championship, and that's the only way that I wanted to leave," the 6-foot senior said. "So it means a whole, whole lot to us four seniors and especially our team. We pulled together from the get-go, and it took every single one of us down to the very last second, or five-tenths of a second."
Five-tenths remained when Shawnee got the ball with a chance to tie. But Alannah Sheets' desperation one-touch three never had a chance.
Jackie Alexander chipped in with 11 points for Cumberlands. Dace Bicane had nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
Howard, Alexander and Haley Ratliff knocked down three three-pointers each.
None was bigger than the last, by Ratliff, with 1:57 left to snap a 66-all tie and put the Patriots ahead to stay.
No. 7 Shawnee (26-5) cut the gap to 71-70 when Alex Pohl converted a three-point play with 24.8 seconds left.
Howard countered by making both ends of a one-and-one with 19.4 seconds left.
Shawnee's Schera Sampson missed a three-point try, got her rebound and turned over the ball with 3.7 seconds left.
Alexander missed the front end of the bonus with 2.2 seconds left, giving Shawnee its last-second chance.
The Bears, who had a 13-game win streak snapped, were paced by Sheets' 18 points and five assists. Pohl added 16 points and nine rebounds.
Cumberlands used a 12-2 spurt to open a 24-12 lead and was up 40-33 at halftime.
Shawnee caught up at 54 and briefly took the lead.
Pohl's put-back gave the Bears a 64-61 lead at 4:00.
A Ratliff trey tied it at 64.