By: Sean McChesney, Sports Director
The 2015-2016 Montclair State women’s basketball season came to an abrupt end as the Red Hawks fell to the Albright College Lions 69-66 in overtime at the Panzer Athletic Center in the NCAA women’s basketball round of 32, Saturday night. The Lions reached this stage following a 76-46 win over Husson University on Friday, March 4 at Panzer. The Red Hawks defeated SUNY Polytechnic 55-48.
Both teams squared off with a bid to the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 on the line. The Red Hawks earned national ranking once again after 11 straight wins. They went into to the game ranked #24 in the country. The Lions had an impressive regular season only suffering two losses. Their first round tournament win ranked them #9 in the country. The one thing that was differentiated the teams; this is the Lions first trip to the tournament. The Red Hawks have made four straight NCAA tournament appearances and played in last years NCAA division III final four.
The round of 32 between Montclair State and Albright was a fight from start to finish. The game started out with great defense from the Lions who executed an excellent full court press which held the Red Hawks to nine points in the first quarter. The Red Hawks biggest weapon all year was the three- pointer. They missed four straight three- pointers in the first quarter. However, the Red Hawks were able to show signs of positivity. They did not let the game get to far ahead as the Lions ended the first quarter up 14-9.
Montclair State responded in a big way in the second quarter. The Red Hawks outscored the Lions 12-8 and were able to count on key baskets from Katie Sire, stellar defense by Taylor Harmon and Sage Bennett. Following a career high 18 point game the night before, Zoe Curtis was able to contribute with the Red Hawks first three pointer of the night right before halftime. The Red Hawks were alive and well going into the locker room down 22-21 at the half.
The third quarter was similar to the second as the Red Hawks outscored the Lions, this time 20-14. In the opening minutes, Red Hawk fans saw the reawakening of Rachael Krauss who shot three three- pointers in a span of three minutes to get Montclair State back in the game.
The momentum was about to shift. The Red Hawks found themselves in a situation that has hurt them throughout the playoffs; foul trouble. Krauss found herself with three personal fouls, Bennett had three fouls in the second half. She would eventually foul out. Kate Tobie had three personal fouls and she would also foul out later in the contest.
As both teams entered the fourth quarter, the Lions knew if they played aggressive and forced fouls, the Red Hawks season would be over. The Red Hawks opened the quarter with a 41-36 lead, which was moments away from disappearing. Alysha Lofton opened up the quarter for the Lions with a layup to cut the lead to three followed by a layup by Mikayla Lea and a successful free throw attempt which would tie the game at 41.
For the remaining minutes of the fourth quarter, the Red Hawks and the Lions would trade punches. Neither team would let the other get ahead, when finally after a pair of free throws by Lofton with 2:20 to go the Red Hawks found themselves down 52-46. With the season on the line, the Red Hawks stormed back with a key layup and jumper by Sire, a layup by Harmon, and finally with time expiring, a game tying three- pointer at the buzzer by Sire to send the game to overtime tied at 58.
The clock would eventually strike midnight for the Red Hawks as the Lions controlled the pace of overtime. They opened the quarter by regaining the lead. The Lions were able to execute with key layups by Lofton and Nina Mazzarelli, followed by key foul shots by Shannon Thomas and Kelecia Harris. The Lions never looked back and were on their way to the team’s first ever NCAA women’s basketball Sweet 16.
As time expired with Montclair State down by three, the ball landed in the hands of Krauss for one last chance to tie the game. She had been the hero with the game winning three pointer against Rowan University in the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship game. This time she was not as lucky. She missed the final shot of the season.
The Lions got the win 69-66 over the Red Hawks in what was called by WMSC basketball play- by- play announcer Craig Gorbunoff, “The heartbreak at Panzer.” The Lions advance to the NCAA division III Women’s Basketball Sweet 16 to be played on Friday, March 11. The Red Hawks 11 game win streak came to an end as they suffered their seventh loss of the season.
The 2015-2016 Montclair State Red Hawks were a team filled with memorable underdog moments. These included fighting back to make the playoffs, winning the NJAC championship game and pushing the best teams in the country to the limit in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately for the Red Hawks, the cinderella story has come to an end and an attempt to return to the NCAA division III Final Four will have to wait until 2017.