March 11, 2006

Pioneers Win Northeast Conference Title, 69-65

March 11, 2006

Final Stats

FAIRFIELD, CT - Junior Amanda Pape (Stamford, CT) scored a game-high 25 points and 14 rebounds and was named the Northeast Conference women's basketball tournament MVP as she led the #1 Sacred Heart University Pioneers to a 69-65 win over #2 Quinnipiac University on Saturday afternoon.

Quinnipiac, 22-8, used a full court press right out of the gate to turn the Pioneers over and build a quick 6-2 lead. Freshman guard Erin Kerner (Erie, PA) had a pair of hoops and freshman Kathleen Neyens(Jaffrey, NH) had the other. Sacred Heart caught a break when Bobcat sophomore center Monique Lee (Lynn, MA) picked up her second foul with 16:14 left in the half that sent her to the bench. A three-point play by SHU freshman center Kaitlin Sowinski (Hopkinton, RI) with 13:38 to play in the period gave the Pioneers a 10-8 lead.

With the score tied at 13-13 the Pioneers used a 6-0 run, capped by a three-pointer by sophomore Lisa Moray to take a 19-13 lead with 8:54 left in the half. Bobcat coach Tricia Sacca-Fabbri called a timeout to calm her troops and re-insert Lee into the lineup. Quinnipiac proceeded to reel off the next 13 points to take their largest lead of the half at 26-19.

The Pioneers, 26-4, trailed 28-21 with 3:30 left in the half and used an 8-0 run to take a 29-28 lead with :27 left. Jasmine Walker (Amityville, NY) started the Pioneer charge with a layup and Pape followed that up with one of her own after a QU turnover. Another Bobcat turnover and steal by Pape led to a pair of Pioneer free throws that cut the Quinnipiac lead to one. Senior Nicolle Rubino hit the go-ahead layup off a miss by Kerri Burke (Saugus, MA).

Senior Jackie Harris (New Haven, CT) was fouled by Walker with just over one second left in the half and hit one of two free throws to send the teams to the locker room tied at 29-29.

Pape finished the first half with 12 points for the Pioneers, while Walker had a game-high 13 rebounds. Sacred Heart shot just 24 percent (8 of 33) in the half. Kerner paced Quinnipiac with 12 points, while Harris contributed nine off the bench in place of Lee.

"We expected them to press but I don't think we were expecting it right away and for them to play it as well as we did," said SHU head coach Ed Swanson. "It gave us a lot of trouble until we got our legs under us."

The Pioneers scored the first five points of the second half on a three-pointer by Rubino and a layup by sophomore Mary Rush (Waterbury, CT) to take a 34-29 lead less than a minute in. Lee then took over for the Bobcats. After being held to just three points in the first half, she scored the first eight points of the half for Quinnipiac.

Lee hit two straight to get the Bobcats within one, but a three-point play by Rush and a Pape layup had the Pioneers back in front by six, 39-33. A three-pointer by freshman Brianna Rooney (Guilford, CT) with 11:46 left in the game again got QU back within a point at 43-42.

A Kerner jumper with 4:30 left in the game tied the game at 51-51. Pape was fouled on a layup on the next SHU possession and she hit both to put SHU back on top. Lee returned the favor at the other end to tie it at 53-53 with 3:47 to play. Lisa Moray banged home a three with 3:25 left to put the Pioneers up56-53. After a Bobcat miss at the other end, Burke was fouled driving to the hoop with 3:09 left. She hit one of two to put SHU ahead 57-53.

Lee was fouled driving to the hoop with 2:53 left but missed the front end of the one and one. Pape missed a layup at the other end for SHU and Walker committed her fifth foul on the rebound. Jackie Harris went to the line for Quinnipiac and hit both to get the Bobcats within two.

Sowinski answered for the Pioneers with a layup with 2:10 left. Harris did the same for the Bobcats with 2:00 to play to make it 59-57. Pape converted a layup 1:25 left off her own miss to give the Pioneers a four-point lead. Lee was fouled again for QU and made both tried to cut the gap to 61-59 with 1:19 to go.

After a Bobcat timeout, Pape took an entry pass from Burke and hit a layup and was fouled. She hit the free throw to finish the three-point play and give SHU a 64-59 lead. Kerner missed a jumper for the Bobcats and Sowinski grabbed the rebound for the Pioneers and passed it to Burke who was fouled. Burke hit both to give SHU a 66-59 lead with :45 left.

Kerner made a three for the Bobcats with :35 left to cut the lead to four. Burke was fouled on the inbounds pass and went back to the line where she made one of two. Lee missed a shot for the Bobcats after the free throws and Burke grabbed the rebound. She was fouled again and made two tries to make it 69-62. Lee hit a three for the Bobcats with :03 left.

"I can't say enough about the way this team persevered today," said Swanson. "This team has been like this all season. Even when we had a couple of tough losses early, these kids never hung their heads."

Lee poured in 20 points in the second half for Quinnipiac to lead her team with 23. Kerner finished with 19, while Harris chipped in 15. Lee and Kerner were also named to the All-Tournament team.

"For a championship game, it lived up to the billing," said Sacca-Fabbri. "Pape made the big plays. That's why she is the player of the year in the conference."

Walker finished with just seven points but a game-high 17 rebounds for the Pioneers. She was named to the All-Tournament team, along with Rubino who finished with 13 points. The win was the tenth straight for the Pioneers and sends them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. "Even though a lot of our shots weren't falling, we kept at it," said Pape. "We kept picking each other up - telling each other we can do it and that as the difference."

"We gutted this one out today and Nicolle came up big for us in the second half and showed great leadership," said Swanson. "Everyone really played better in the second half and made the plays when we needed them."

"This the most amazing feeling," said Rubino. "I will never forget this or these players."

"The NCAA Tournament is a dream come true for us. It means everything to our team, our university, the alumni - to a lot of people that helped build this program."