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Winona State dispatched a scrappy Vassar college 45-26 to advance to the women’s DII National Championship. Winona led the whole game and every time Vassar got within striking distance, the Black Cats answered back with a try.
Winona State opened the game on the front foot. The Black Cats kicked off to open the game and immediately turned the ball over in the first breakdown. Vassar managed to dodge trouble for the first eight minutes but the Black Cats ultimately powered over through the pack to take a 7-0 lead.
Vassar had some play in Winona territory post the try but continued to struggle at the breakdown. The Black Cats won a penalty and prop Rachel Hannigan Steamed through the Vassar team. She found Lindsey Bucki who walked in under the posts for a 14-0 lead.
The Brewers stemmed the momentum and finally got on the board after a number of penalties. The dynamic and athletic Cierra Thomas busted through the line and nearly found pay dirt but was stopped just short. After a few penalties, prop Darienne Jones quick tapped, looped her teammate, got the ball back and bull dozed over for the score.
Vassar continued in the ascendency, winning several more penalties at the breakdown. The referee warned Winona twice and after consecutive penalties one its own goal line, the referee sent a Winona player to the bin. Vassar used its forwards once again off the penalty and eventually worked its way over through Mariah Ghant. With the conversion, Vassar trailed 14-12.
Winona State continued to dominate at the breakdown, turning over Vassar players anytime there was an isolated player. The Black Cats worked there way methodically through the 22 after a line break culminating in Bucki’s second of the day. With three minutes left in the half Winona led 21-12.
The Black Cats burst out of the gate in the second half. Cassie Schultz busted through the line, as she did a number of times on the day. The ball worked its way wide and Winona dotted down moments into the second half.
Winona kept probing in Vassar territory and finally broke through again after a lineout. The Black Cats drove the maul and peeled out the maul week side and went in untouched to extend the lead to 33-12.
Vassar responded immediately, however, cutting the deficit to 14. Thomas intercepted a lazy pass, broke through four tackles and scored. With the conversion, Vassar trailed 33-19 with 23 minutes to play.
The Brewers upped the pressure after the score. Winona defended fiercely on its own goal line and looked to be out of trouble with a scrum but the Black Cats committed a front row penalty. Jones took another quick tap and dove over to make it a one score game.
Vassar could not get any closer, however. Winona pressured Vassar deep in its territory and rather than kicking the ball away, the Brewers tried to run it out. Winona State poached the ball dotted down to make it a two score game once again. The Black Cats added another try minutes late to extend the lead to 45-26 and seal the match.
Winona State won the match despite an extremely high penalty count. The Black Cats will have to clean that up when they take on Davenport tomorrow. Winona has reached the finals several times but is still looking for that elusive first national title.