March 15, 2009
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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (March 15, 2009) - The Sacred Heart Pioneers completed a perfect run through the Northeast Conference claiming their second league championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 74-66 win over Saint Francis (PA) before a record crowd of 1,529 in the William H. Pitt Center on Sunday afternoon. The Pioneers marched to their second NEC title in the last four years on the strength of Tournament MVP Kaitlin Sowinski's (Hopkinton, RI) 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks against the Red Flash.
Sowinski was joined by freshman teammate Callan Taylor (Overland Park, KS) along with Alison Daly and Brittany Lilley of Saint Francis (PA) and LaKia Barber of Monmouth on the NEC All-Tournament team. Over the three tournament games, Sowinski averaged 25.7 points and 11.3 rebounds with 13 blocks while shooting 53.7% (29-54) from the field. Taylor also averaged a double double in the tournament at 12.0 ppg and 13.0 rpg.
The Pioneers (25-7) will head into the NCAA Tournament riding a 21-game winning streak, the second-longest streak in the country behind only the #1 ranked UConn Huskies. SHU finished the NEC regular season 18-0, just the third team in league history to run the table while capping it off with the tournament title and trip to the "Dance".
In order to claim their second title, the Pioneers needed to fight off a tough Saint Francis (PA) team that came in with a 29-game NEC Tournament record and nine league championships on their resume. SHU burst out to an 8-2 lead in the game's opening minutes helped by a pair of sophomore Alisa Apo (Freehold, NJ) dribble-drive lay-ups. The Pioneers extended their lead to double digits seven minutes in as an Apo three capped was 16-6 game opening run.
After a Maggie Cosgrove (Andover, MA) three at 7:45 extended Sacred Heart's lead to 27-14, its biggest in the first half, the Red Flash (15-17) began to chip away and cut the Pioneer's lead to just four at the break. SFPA sophomore Allison Daly single handily began to carry her team back with back-to-back steals and consecutive lay-ups to cut the lead to 27-18.
Freshman Brittany Lilley buried a pair of jumpers in the lane to cut the Pioneer lead further to 27-22 by 5:15. SHU's Lindsey Gibson (Mechanicville, NY) hit a driving lay-up to slow the Red Flash down and after a Shawna Scott jumper Sowinski and Khalia Cain hit a pair of free throws each to up SHU up nine, 33-26, with 2:35 remaining. The Red Flash continued to chip away, slicing the lead in half thanks to a pair of Whitney Robinson free throws and a three by Samantha Leach in the final minute to go into the locker room at 33-29 Sacred Heart.
Saint Francis (PA) stayed within three points in the opening minutes of the second half but couldn't close the game any further. Down, 39-36, a Britney Hodges' three missed it mark at 17:34 that would have tied the game and the Pioneers capitalized pushing their lead to seven, 45-38, thanks to a Stephanie Ryan (Coram, NY) fast-break, three-point play at 14:41. The Red Flash continued to press and pulled back to within four, 49-45, as Daly buried a three.
SHU's Taylor, who played just four minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, nailed a long jumper from the of the key to get the Pioneers started on a 12-4 run to produce their biggest lead of the game at 63-49 with just under seven minutes to go. Senior Khalia Cain (Manchester, CT) buried a three on the rally and Sowinski finished it off with a lay-in underneath.
The Red Flash had one last run in them as they cut it down to five with 2:43 left as Daly once again helped do the damage with a lay-up off a steal and a jumper. With Saint Francis forced to foul down the stretch, the Pioneers refused to falter and hit nine-of-10 in the closing minutes to seal the win. Apo went to the line six times and hit all six on her way to a 10-of-10 afternoon at the charity stripe to finish with a game-high 21 points.
Taylor just missed her fifth-straight double double finishing with nine points and 10 rebounds in the win. The Pioneers shot 42.1% (24-57) in the win and held the Red Flash to just 32.9% (23-70) from the field and 11.1% (2-18) from behind the arc.
Sacred Heart will host a "Selection Show" party Monday night in the William H. Pitt Center to find out where the Pioneers will be headed for their second trip to the Big Dance. Gates will open at 6:00 pm with coverage of the announcement of the 64-team NCAA field will start at 7:00 pm live on ESPN. The event is free and open to the public.