FRANKFORT, Ky. - Entering the 2012-13 season, the Freed-Hardeman Lady Lions had a goal of playing for - and winning - a national championship.
Unfortunately, the path to that goal came to an end one game too soon.
A 9-0 run late in the first half by Westmont (Calif.) gave the Warriors a lead they would not relinquish, and subsequently ended Freed-Hardeman's season in the NAIA Fab 4, 59-49.
The loss brings a close to the best season in program history as the Lady Lions finish the year with a 34-2 record.
FHU led for the majority of the first half until Westmont's Esther Lee scored eight straight points, the last of which was a 3-pointer that put Westmont (29-4) up 29-23 with 1:18 to go in the half.
Ashley Tate countered with a 3-pointer of her own to get the Lady Lions within three, and FHU had a chance to tie at the buzzer but Natalie Shumpert's shot came up short.
In the second half, the Lady Lions continued to struggle to get quality shots against a Westmont team that did many of the things that FHU normally does to opponents.
Twice, Freed-Hardeman pulled within two points of the lead only to see the Warriors counter with two unanswered baskets.
The first time, FHU forced a miss after getting within two points but the rebound was tipped up to Tugce Canitez, who finished an easy layup.
The second time, FHU forced another miss down two and got the rebound but Grace Alonso de Armino's outlet pass was stolen by Canitez. Canitez turned that steal into points with a free-throw line jumper, then scored again on Westmont's next possession with a putback of an offensive rebound.
Those two baskets were the start of an 8-0 run that put Westmont ahead 51-41 with 7:01 to play.
The Lady Lions got no closer than six points of the lead the rest of the game despite getting good looks at the basket. FHU made just four of its last 15 shots.
Westmont, meanwhile, protected the basketball and worked late into the shot clock each possession, taking more time off the game clock in the process. Coupled with Freed-Hardeman's cold shooting, it proved to be more than the Lady Lions could overcome.
Shumpert ended her career at FHU with 13 points and leaves as the fourth-leading career scorer with 2055 points. Fellow seniors Maria Bagwell and Ashley Tate both had 10 points.
Shooting was the major difference in the game as Westmont shot 45.1 percent compared to 30.4 percent for FHU. Canitez - the WBCA NAIA Player of the Year - and Lee both finished with 19 points apiece for the Warriors, who move on to face Lee (Tenn.) University in tomorrow night's national championship game.