HICKORY, N.C. — Allie Lindemann wasn’t afraid to use a common sports cliche.
Because it couldn’t have been more true in the wake of the Parkland women’s basketball team stalling Union County (N.J.) College 50-40 during Wednesday’s NJCAA Division II national tournament quarterfinal game.
“It truly is true,” the Cobras’ coach said, “in terms of defense wins championships.”
Two more defensive efforts like Wednesday’s and Parkland (19-3) very well could return to Champaign with a national title. The sixth-seeded Cobras held the 14th-seeded Owls (14-4) to 14 points on 21 percent shooting from the field in the second half. Union County entered the contest averaging more than 75 points per game.
“We did our job defensively, especially in the second half,” Lindemann said. “Their leading scorer (Samira Sargent) had zero points. That was huge. They didn’t have anybody score above seven points.”
St. Joseph-Ogden product Peyton Crowe and fellow sophomore Ariana Booker were at the forefront of Parkland’s defensive stand.
Warren guarded Sargent for much of the game, but also switched with Crowe in defending another dangerous opposing player in Brianna Mills. Mills produced six points to go with seven apiece from Aliyah Williams, Kendra Lawrence and Tatiana Bruno.
“They just got key stops, kept them out of the paint,” Lindemann said. “There was nothing open or easy for them.”
Union County committed 22 turnovers and reached the free-throw line just three times, well below its season average of 20 free-throw attempts.
“We harp ourselves on that team defense,” Lindemann said. “If one girl gets beat, we always have that wall behind them.”
It’s evident from the final score, however, that Parkland needed every bit of its stifling defense. Only an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter allowed the Cobras to finally pull away from the Owls.
Lindemann compared Union County’s defense to that of Wabash Valley, which qualified for the NJCAA D-I national tournament as a 10 seed. Parkland hosted Wabash on Jan. 23 and came away with a 71-64 victory.
“(The Owls) pressured us a little bit in the beginning, but we broke that right away,” Lindemann said. “They didn’t pressure as much the entire rest of the game, which helped us out.”
Freshman Mady Harper recorded a game-high 12 points for the Cobras and further packed the stat sheet with five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Harper ended the first half with a buzzer-beating layup that tied the game at 26 entering halftime.
Sophomore Naomi McDaniel chipped in nine points and eight rebounds, including a contested layup in the paint with a minute to go to put Parkland ahead by six.
Crowe (eight points, six rebounds), Booker (five points, three steals) and sophomore/Tri-County product Kiersten Price-Wilson (four points, two rebounds) also made key contributions for the Cobras.
Lindemann spent the pre-fourth quarter huddle asking her athletes to exert even more energy than they already had versus Union County and against first-round opponent Muskegon (Mich.) the night prior.
And she received the best response she could’ve hoped for.
“(I asked them) to mentally focus in and push through that fatigue and leave it all out there,” Lindemann said. “In tough moments, they do a good job of coming together. At any given time, any one of our girls could step up ... and that’s what makes us dangerous.”
The Cobras are in the national tournament’s Final Four for the first time since 2015, when Lindemann’s father, Mike, was in charge of the program.
Parkland won its semifinal game that year, only to drop a 66-64 championship heartbreaker to Johnson County (Kan.).
Before the Cobras can consider securing the team’s first-ever national championship, they’ll need to get past second-seeded Lake Land (23-2) in a 6 p.m. Friday semifinal.
It’s a familiar opponent for Parkland, which split a pair of regular-season matchups with the Lakers. Lake Land knocked off No. 10 USC Salkehatchie (S.C.) 67-55 in another quarterfinal.
“They’re exhausted right now with the battle of the tournament and playing as many minutes and a quick turnaround,” Allie Lindemann said. “But they’re happy, and they’re pumped up to keep it going.”