They had no business being here, leading Oklahoma City by a point with two minutes to go in the national championship game and a favorable crowd making a gym in Kentucky sound like one in Henderson, Tenn.
Their best player was playing hurt, their best athlete was struggling with her shot and they had trailed by 14 points a few minutes earlier.
But when Hayley Newby rebounded and scored for that one-point lead with two minutes left, Freed-Hardeman was as close as ever to a national title.
It stands now as a painful tease.
Oklahoma City won its seventh national championship Tuesday night, beating Freed-Hardeman 80-76 in the Lady Lions’ first appearance in the title game.
It was the first loss for FHU (36-2), the winningest team in program history, since Feb. 15.
The teams traded baskets after FHU freshman guard Taleeah Cross hit two free throws to tie the game at 74 with 1:01 left.
After Autumn Lau scored for OCU, Cross’ jumper tied the game at 76. Neal scored quickly for the Stars.
Newby was defended well on the ensuing possession as she had been all game, and a difficult shot from the baseline was off target. OCU rebounded and clinched its title at the free throw line moments later.
Newby had 14 points and eight rebounds – her only game this week without a double-double. Before taking a seat on the bench at one point, the former Farragut High School standout pounded the seat of her chair in frustration.
Former West standout Grace Alonso de Armino had six points and 15 rebounds, but she shot 1-for-16.
All-Americans: Newby and Alonso de Armino were two of 10 players named to the NAIA All-American first team on Wednesday.
Newby, a 6-foot junior, averaged 19.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. She ranked in the top 15 in the NAIA in seven statistical categories, leading the nation in double-doubles (24) and was second in total points (735) and total rebounds (419).
Alonso de Armino, a 6-1 guard/forward, averaged 13.6 points and 10.9 rebounds. She ranked in the top 10 in the NAIA in four statistical categories.