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SIOUX CITY – The next time Concordia returns here, the stakes will get a little higher, but on Saturday the talented Bulldogs’ women’s basketball team fended off Morningside 88-80 to clinch at least a share of the Great Plains Athletic Conference title.

Second-ranked Concordia held off a strong challenge from No. 15 Morningside, which lost to the Bulldogs 95-64 on Jan. 6 in Seward, Nebraska. The next time Concordia comes back in Sioux City, it will be for the NAIA Division II National Women’s Basketball Championship next month at the Tyson Events Center.

Then, Concordia will be considered among the favorites to capture a national title that has eluded the traditionally talented program.

“It’s a special group and we knew coming into the season with the kids we had returning that we had a chance to be really good,” Concordia Coach Drew Olson said. “But to get some of the wins we’ve had with some of the circumstances has been really impressive.

“We’ve been there (national tournament) a few times. It takes a little luck, the ball has to bounce your way. This is a really tough group. At this point we share a conference title but they didn’t really care. They want the ultimate goal and hopefully we have a chance at it.”

Concordia (27-1, 17-1) has a two-game lead over Northwestern and Dakota Wesleyan with two games remaining in the regular season. The Bulldogs won their first 24 contests before being upset by Midland on Jan. 31.

Like Morningside did in its heyday, Concordia answered every challenge by the youthful Mustangs inside Allee Gym. The last was with 39 seconds remaining when Sierra Mitchell bombed in a long 3-pointer to pull Morningside within 84-80.

Dani Hoppes and Taylor Cockerill each made two free throws in the final 31 seconds to secure the victory. Concordia led by as many as 14 points in the second quarter before the Mustangs trimmed it to 44-37 at halftime.

“They’re a great team with great shooters,” Morningside Coach Jamie Sale said. “I thought we played OK on defense and they still scored 88 points. We had a stretch where we were down 14 and it looked like maybe it was going to cave in so credit to our players, they really battled back.

“We had a chance to win but with their experience and great players they just made the plays at the end. I know they’re a little frustrated but every loss we’ve had has been to a team rated in the top 12. Hopefully when we get in the conference tournament and national tournament maybe we’ll win a couple of those instead of being on the other end.”

The loss dropped Morningside to 18-10 overall and 11-7 for fifth place in the GPAC standings.

Philomena Lammers, a second-team All-American as a freshman last season, led Concordia with 17 points and eight rebounds before fouling out.

Morningside’s Madison Braun scored a game-high 22 points while Mitchell contributed 13 points off the bench and Sydney Hupp 10 points and eight rebounds in a reserve role.

Sale started each of his seniors in the final home game of the regular season.

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