STANDISH, ME – Senior forward Abby Young (North Yarmouth, Maine) poured in a game-high 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to propel second-seeded Saint Joseph's College (22-5) past #3 Rivier University (20-7), 79-72, in a Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Women's Basketball Tournament Semifinal at the Harold Alfond Center on Thursday evening,
With the victory, Saint Joseph's advances to the GNAC Championship for the second time in the last three seasons and will play host to #8 Norwich University in the title matchup in a 1:00 PM start on Saturday. The Cadets knocked out top-seeded Emmanuel College, 84-78 in overtime in the quarterfinals on Tuesday and continued their improbable run with a convincing 72-59 semifinal triumph over #5 Johnson & Wales University earlier this evening.
Owning one of the finest overall records in the region, the Raiders will learn whether they earn an ECAC New England Championship Tournament berth in the coming days.
Saint Joseph's, which shot 86.2% (25-29) from the free throw line on the night, fought through some early jitters and led by as many as 21 points midway through the second half. But Rivier, which trailed by 30 and nearly pulled off a comeback win against the Monks during the regular season, managed to jump back into contention with a late run. With the cushion cut down to five in the closing minutes, Saint Joseph's managed to drain all eight attempts from the charity stripe to preserve the victory.
The outlook was bleak early for the Monks, as a Savannah Butterfield (Londonderry, N.H.) hit a jumper off a Ryan Baker (Whitinsville, Mass.) pass to push the visitors to a seven-point (15-8) advantage with 13:28 remaining in the first half.
As it played out, the lead would be the Raiders' largest and turned out to be short-lived, as the Monks netted nine unanswered points – a string that included three-pointers from freshmen guards Abbie Eastman (Norway, Maine) and Danica Gleason (South Portland, Maine) – to assume a 17-15 edge less than four minutes later.
Unfazed, Rivier countered by scoring eight consecutive points, with the last five coming from freshman guard Caitlyn Perry (Nashua, N.H.) to help the visitors establish a 23-17 lead with 8:38 before the break.
The Raiders clung to the lead for the following three minutes before Young drained a three off a Mackenzie Dufour (Augusta, Maine) feed to knot the game at 25-apiece. The shot from downtown helped ignite an impressive 22-2 outburst which saw the Monks secure a 42-27 lead before Perry connected on a buzzer-beater at the half to make it a 42-30 game going into intermission.
Saint Joseph's continued to control the pace of play early in the second stanza and extended the advantage to a game-high 21 points (61-40) when Young converted a layup with 9:28 left. The resilient Raiders methodically chipped away at the deficit and eventually cut the SJC lead down to five (71-66) when Perry closed out a 26-10 offensive outburst at the 2:56 mark.
The closing minutes of the contest proved to be uncomfortable for the hosts, but Saint Joseph's – which did not convert a field goal in the last 5:01 of play - was able to stave off defeat with the help of the perfect 8-8 effort from the line.
For the Monks, sophomore center Morgan Cahill (Yarmouth, Maine) tallied 19 points, nine rebounds and a pair of blocks, Eastman was 2-2 from beyond the arc and scored 10 points, Gleason added eight points and four boards and Dufour contributed a game-high six assists with a pair of steals. Junior Sarah Assante (Standish, Maine) chipped in with five points, four assists, three caroms and three steals in the victory.
Perry came off the bench to net a team-high 17 points for the Raiders while junior guard Deanna Purcell (Hudson, N.H.) registered 15 points, five boards and three steals and freshman forward Savannah Butterfield (Londonderry, N.H.) contributed 14 points and five rebounds in the loss. Baker added 10 points, four assists and four steals and senior forward Jaclyn Penniman (Dudley, Mass.) chimed in with nine points and eight rebounds on the evening.
With the win, Saint Joseph's improves to 8-4 in the history of the series with Rivier University.
Saint Joseph's College is Maine's only Catholic liberal arts college, providing a supportive, personalized and career-focused education for more than 100 years. From its 430-acre campus on the shores of Sebago Lake, the College offers more than 40 undergraduate programs to a population of approximately 1,000 students. Saint Joseph's College Online provides certificates, undergraduate and advanced degrees for working adults through an online learning program. For more, visit www.sjcme.edu.