DAHLONEGA, Ga. – Chelsea Mitchell scored 25 points as the Lander Bearcats beat Columbus State University 91-83 Saturday evening at the University of North Georgia Convocation Center, advancing to the Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship game for the third consecutive season.
Second-seeded Lander improved to 24-6 on the season and faces top seed University of North Georgia Sunday afternoon at 3:30 on its home floor in Dahlonega for the PBC title.
Peach Belt regular season champion North Georgia rallied past Georgia College 69-66 in Saturday's other semifinal. The Nighthawks beat Lander in both meetings during the regular season.
Third-seeded Columbus State fell to 19-9 and awaits its NCAA Tournament fate.
The Bearcats are seeking their fifth tournament championship in program history (1999, 2008, 2009, 2016).
Lander exorcised some demons Saturday. The Bearcats were 1-5 against Columbus State in PBC Tournament play, including a 76-61 loss in the tournament title game last season.
But Lander used a 10-0 run to break a 30-all tie in the second quarter Saturday and never looked back, earning its 11th victory in its last 12 games.
Mitchell made nine of 15 shots from the floor and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line in leading all scorers.
Jessica Harris added 16 points for the Bearcats, shared team-high honors with seven rebounds, led the team with four steals and added five assists.
Ariana Sanders scored 15 points for Lander. Breshay Johnson also scored 15 for the Bearcats while grabbing seven boards. Christal Williams added 10 points while Destinee Langford scored eight and paced Lander with six assists.
Machala Raymonville led the Cougars with 21 points and nine rebounds. Tatiana Wayne added 18 points while Tatum Jarvis contributed 14 points.
The Bearcats were trailing 10-4 when they went on an 8-0 run for their first lead of the game. Mitchell made a jumper just beyond the free-throw line, then stole the ball from a Columbus State player's arms and turned it into a layup and three-point play, and Sanders swished a go-ahead 3-pointer to make it 12-10 at the 5:17 mark. Lander led 22-21 after one quarter.
The game was tied at 22, 24, 26, 28 and 30 before the Bearcats embarked on a 10-0 run for a 40-30 advantage.
Sanders hit a jump shot from the stripe to start the run, Mitchell made a layup off a Williams steal, Harris scored off a back-court steal, Langford found Johnson open for a layup, and Harris scored on a put-back for a 10-point lead with three minutes until halftime.
Lander led 44-37 at the break.
The Bearcats outscored Columbus State 9-2 at the start of the second half, taking their largest lead of the game at 53-39. Langford opened the third quarter with a driving layup, Sanders hit a long jumper, and Mitchell swished a jump shot just inside the arc to highlight the run.
Williams made two free throws, upping Lander's lead to 60-44 with 4:27 left in the third. Harris was all alone for a layup off Langford's defensive rebound and long outlet pass, making it 68-52 with 36 seconds to go.
The Bearcats were up 68-54 going into the fourth quarter.
Sanders banked a shot off the glass for a 72-54 advantage in the first minute of the final period. Harris's steal and layup gave Lander a 78-61 lead with 4:46 left.
But Jarvis's driving layup pulled the Cougars within 80-69 at the two-minute mark. Then Raymonville and Wayne hit consecutive 3s as Columbus State was down only 82-75 with just under one minute to go.
Langford and Harris each hit a pair of free throws, and the Bearcats were back up 86-77 with 33 seconds left. After Chrisalyn Boston's put-back again pulled the Cougars within seven, Harris added three of four free throws, and Mitchell tacked on two more.