KATY, Texas (AP) Two years ago, Northwestern State was 6-23 and brought in co-head coaches Brooke and Scott Stoehr to try to turn around the program.
The husband and wife team needed just two years to see results.
Chelsea Rogers scored 16 points Sunday and Northwestern State pulled away in the second half for a 62-44 victory over Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Conference championship, earning the Demons' first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2004.
''From where we were two years ago, to sitting up here,'' Brooke Stoehr said, ''it's just an unbelievable feeling, and I'm not sure any of us could put into context.''
Brooke Stoehr said it has been a long two years, and coaching together gets difficult at times.
''I've never been around a group of young ladies that just believe in each other and believe in what we say,'' Brooke Stoehr said. ''There's just something special about them. ... These young ladies have tremendous character. I think at times that gets overshadowed a bit, but when you get into moments like this, that is when it comes to the forefront. I couldn't be more proud and happy for them.''
Trudy Armstead added 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Janelle Perez scored 10 points for Northwestern State (21-12), which won its seventh straight and third in three days to earn the program's third appearance in the NCAA tournament.
''It means a lot because we went through hard work and everything to get to this point,'' Armstead said. ''A few years ago, we didn't have the pieces to the puzzle, and now, we have a group of girls that seem to click together. It has brought us to this point.''
The Demons shot 45 percent, connected on 7 of 17 from behind the arc and turned 16 SFA turnovers into 23 points.
Porsha Roberts had 14 points and 13 rebounds and Kali Jerrell chipped in 13 points for Stephen F. Austin (20-12), which shot 33 percent for the game. The Ladyjacks were 2 of 18 for 3-pointers.
SFA has not reached the NCAA tournament since 2006.
''The ball just did not go in the basket for us today,'' SFA coach Brandon Schneider said. ''I think we just had a group that wanted to win so bad . and they started aiming their shots a little bit. We kept missing, and eventually that starts to affect the confidence on the defensive end as well.''
Roberts scored the first five points of the second half to close the Ladyjacks within 31-27 on a layup with 16:26 remaining, but Northwestern State responded with a 10-3 spurt to extend the lead to 11 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Rogers with 10 minutes left.
During Northwestern State's run, SFA was 1 of 10 from the field with four turnovers.
''Our team did some things offensively today that took them out of their rhythm,'' Brooke Stoehr said. ''We were able to go down and execute on offense ourselves. We knocked down some big shots, and we were able to sustain some runs and thwart some of their runs.''
SFA closed within 44-36 on Jerrell's 3-pointer with 7:40 left, but that was as close as the Ladyjacks would get, as Northwestern State answered with an 11-2 run to push the lead to 17 on a layup by Perez with 3:33 left.
''I think the more we missed throughout the game, the more you saw them shrink and shrink and just play on top of Porsha,'' added Schneider. ''The more we missed, the more they started getting below the 15-foot line. We just couldn't make a shot.''
Northwestern State capped a 19-8 run over a nearly nine-minute span of the first half with Armstead's layup with 4 minutes remaining to take a 28-18 lead. Beatrice Attura led the Demons with five points in the stretch.
Northwestern State led 31-22 at the half behind 5 of 10 shooting from behind the arc