March 8, 2009
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (March 8, 2009) - Sacred Heart got 24 points, nine rebound and five blocks from senior center Kaitlin Sowinski (Hopkinton, RI) to lead the Pioneers past #5 seeded Monmouth, 64-54, advancing to the 2009 Northeast Conference Championship game for the third time in the last four seasons. The Pioneers, who won their 20th-straight game, will be seeking their second NEC title and trip to the NCAA Tournament when they play host to #3 seed Saint Francis (PA) next Sunday in the league championship game.
The Pioneers (24-7) came flying out of the gates and opened the game with a 10-0 run. NEC Player of the Year Alisa Apo (Freehold, NJ) buried a three off a steal by freshman Callan Taylor (Overland Park, KS) while senior Stephanie Ryan (Coram, NY) hit from behind the arc as well. Sowinski hit on her first two lay-up attempts, the second forcing a MU timeout at 17:45.
Monmouth's (18-13) Marisa Jimenez ended the drought with a jumper in the lane but Sowinski hit another lay-in underneath to put SHU up 12-2 at the 17:00 minute mark. Sowinski made her first three shots of the game but both her and the Pioneers would go stone cold over the next nine minutes. Sacred Heart would got without a point, missing 11-straight shots before a Taylor jumper at 8:01 ended the drought. The Hawks struggled to capitalize, cutting the lead to 14-10 on another Jimenez jump shot.
SHU continued their offensive struggles for the rest of the half, scoring just nine more points after their initial 12-2 opening run. The Hawks ended the half with an Alexis Canaday three to pull within a bucket at the break, 21-19. The Pioneers made just seven-of-22 from the field and turned it over nine times in the first half.
The Hawks went inside on their first possession of the second half as senior LaKia Barber got the ball down deep and converted, drawing a foul to go to the line with a chance to give her team their first lead. Barber's free throw missed its mark and the Pioneers responded with a quick 8-0 spurt, six from Sowinski, to go up 29-21 with 16:11 on the clock.
Monmouth used some tough defense to stay in the hunt while senior Jennifer Bender finally found the scoreboard after nearly 28 minutes of being held scoreless, hitting a pair of jumpers to pull the Hawks within 34-31 at 11:45. Barber converted on a three-point play to cut the lead to two and after two free throws by Alexis Scott put MU down 38-36 with 9:04 left, SHU's offense found its rhythm and put the game away.
Taylor buried a long three from the top of the arc and the Pioneers got off on a 12-4 run that help put the game away. Sowinski hit two turnaround jumpers in the lane and finished off a three-point play while senior Khalia Cain buried a long two just inside the arc for a 52-40 lead with just under five minutes to play. Taylor put the stamp on her fourth-straight double double by converting on a put-back plus one with 2:24 left and SHU hit nine-of-10 at the free throw line down the stretch to secure the win.
Sowinski finished nine-of-19 from the field and six-of-seven at the line on her way to a 24 point afternoon. Over the two games in the first two rounds of the tournament, the two-time All-NEC center scored 57 points with 19 rebounds to lead the Pioneers into the title game. Sowinski's five blocks contributed to a stellar defensive effort that saw SHU hold Bender to just four points and just 33.9% (21-62) shooting by the Hawks.
Taylor just missed recording a triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in the win. She also added a block and a steal to her line in 38 minutes of action. Apo finished with 16 points hitting nine-of-10 at the free throw line.
The Pioneers and Red Flash will tip-off the 2009 NEC Championship game next Sunday, March 15th at 3:00 pm, live on ESPNU. SHU will host this year's title game as the #1 seed.