INA, Ill. - Erika McCaster was hot enough in the first half of the NJCAA Region 24 tournament against Wabash Valley Saturday at Rend Lake College, with 14 points.

She only hit one shot in the second half, but it was huge. Her 3-pointer with 50 seconds left clinched Southwestern’s 55-53 victory over Wabash Valley, sending the upset-minded Blue Angels to the national tournament next week in Salina, Kan.

Southwestern (21-6), the third-seeded team in the tournament, had already upset No. 2 seed Kaskaskia in the semifinals to take dead aim at 17th-ranked WVC (26-5), a team which had beaten twice already.

“They got hot at the right time and did a good job of getting the ball to the right people,” said Wabash Valley coach Zach Loll. “(McCaster, who finished with 19 points) really torched us in the first half.

The Blue Angels also did a good job of collapsing their defense inside against Wabash Valley’s tandem of Andriana Moore and Desiree Rhodes, according to Loll.

“We tried to rush things, and just didn’t go up and finish shots,” he said. “It gets to this time of year, and you’ve got to score through contact. We should be able to play through that, which would be to our advantage.”

WVC led early, 15-5, with Ellie Fruit’s three 3-point field goals and one from Demetria Snaden helping get the Lady Warriors off to a good start.

Southwestern recovered to within 27-26 at halftime, and took its first lead of the night on a layup Breana Baker with 13 minutes left.

After McCaster’s 3-ball late put Southwestern ahead 54-49, Auriel Trible and Moore each hit two free throws to pull WVC back to within 54-53, with 26 seconds left.

Money’ Black’s free throw made it 55-53 with 13 seconds left, but Wabash had one chance left. However, Tyshee Towner’s missed a turnaround that could have tied the game.

Moore scored 16 to lead WVC, followed by Fruit’s 11 points.

After McCaster, DeLoach scored 11 for the Blue Angels.