Beat me once, shame on you; beat me twice, shame on me; but beat me three times . the women’s basketball team wasn’t about to discover that answer.
After losing to Richard Stockton College twice in the regular season by an average of about 15 points, the College captured the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship Friday by spanking top-seeded Stockton 60-39 in Pomona.
Led by sophomore forward Sara Best’s game-high 16 points and career-high 11 rebounds, the College used a torrid start and solid defense to capture the program’s third NJAC title in six years.
“It was pretty much amazing,” junior forward Megan Hueter said. “It’s what we’ve worked hard for all season. We knew we could beat Stockton the first two times, and I am thrilled that it happened in the championship game.”
The conference title also earned the third-seeded Lions an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament. They are scheduled to play the University of Mary Washington this Friday in Virginia.
Senior captain forward Erin Frank helped the cause by scoring 12 points and pulling down nine rebounds, while fellow senior captain guard Alexa Shields added 10 points.
The Lions used a 14-4 run to open the game and never looked back, leading wire-to-wire and holding a double-digit lead for all but five minutes. Hueter scored seven of her nine points to help key the Lions’ early scoring burst.
With less than eight minutes to play, the College led by as many as 19 and went to the locker room with a 16-point cushion. Stockton shot just 16 percent from the field in the first half.
Junior guard Jenna Shank capped an 8-0 run with a three-pointer to close the gap to 13 points with just under five minutes to play, but Frank ended the threat with a three-point play that sealed the deal and sent the Lions dancing.
“We played them twice (in the regular season) and each time we played them, we competed for a half. We hadn’t played a whole game against them yet,” head coach Dawn Henderson said.
Sophomore guard Lisa Neira led Stockton with 10 points and junior forward Alicia Morris snagged a game-high 14 rebounds.
Stockton shot a discouraging 23 percent from the field and 19 percent from three-point range and committed 23 turnovers. The Ospreys’ 39 points were a season-low output.
“We had an expectation to play good defense,” Henderson said. “I think our defense has been strong all season.”
The College avenged a late- season loss and defeated second-seeded Montclair State University 49-43 in the semifinals of the NJAC tournament last Wednesday in Montclair.
The College used poise at the free-throw line to outscore Montclair 8-0 in the final two-plus minutes to win the game.
Frank posted a double-double, with 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Lions.
Best hit two free throws with nine seconds left to end the run and seal the deal for the Lions. Best began the critical stretch, hitting two free throws with 2:40 left to play, cutting the Montclair lead to 42-41.
Sophomore guard Jessica Garrabrant sank one foul shot for Montclair, but senior guard Tiara Simpkins tied the game at 43-43 with two more free throws. After two Montclair misses, senior center Danica Miller sank two free throws with just over a minute left, giving the College a 45-43 lead.
Junior forward Breanne Depken added eight points and three boards to help the Lions.
“If you looked at our record overall we hadn’t shot very well from the free throw line until the last three games,” Henderson said. “We’re getting some confidence and we’ve become more focused as the season wound down.”