Patriots senior guard Rachel Ward, who finished 1 of 8 on 3-pointers, put up a long range shot that hit off the front of the rim. Payne gathered the loose ball and was fouled with 11.1 seconds to go. Payne missed the first but made the second to set the final score.
"I'm just so happy,'' said Akers. "We've dedicated our life to basketball. To get this accomplishment means everything.''
Mullins netted 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting with six rebounds and Inman chipped in nine points. Payne pulled down 10 rebounds to go along with six points.
"We had to come out and do something different,'' said Princeton coach Debbie Ball, whose team lost in the section championship game last week. "[GW] was killing us inside. In the second quarter I changed up the defense and wasn't real sure about it. [Our players] just came out [in the third quarter], knew they were behind and had to play harder. I could tell they were coming to play.''
GW junior post Kelli Jo Harrison, who surpassed 1,000 career points, turned in 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor and 10-of-13 accuracy from the foul line and grabbed 16 rebounds. Ward, the Patriots' top scorer at 17.9 points per game, and Stewart added 12 points apiece while senior center Leslie Gilmore contributed 11 boards and six points.
"Breakdowns on defense,'' LaMaster said of his team's woes in the second half. "When you're up in the game at this level to come out in the third quarter and take those ill-advised shots, quick shots, long rebounds and they're scoring on the other end, I can't understand it. There were a lot of mistakes in the third quarter. You've got to play hard for 32 minutes and we didn't do that. That's happened more times than I care to recall.''
The teams battled back and forth in the third and fourth quarters. After Harrison scored on a baseline jump shot to put GW ahead 42-33 to start the third period, Princeton ran off nine straight points to knot the game at 42. Mullins had a putback with 1:06 left in the period to give the Tigers a 49-48 edge heading into the fourth.
Inman nailed a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter for Princeton but Harrison knocked down a pair of foul shots to tie it at 54 with 5:56 remaining. The Patriots knotted the score again at 56-all on Gilmore's two free throws, but Akers answered with two from the foul line to take the advantage for good at 58-56 with 5:08 to go.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkin...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.