Locals’ college teams making a lot of noise
Sidelined with a broken leg, Amherst’s Jane White watched her Bentley University teammates wrap up a perfect season by storming back in the final three minutes – closing with a press-fueled 19-5 run – to overtake fifth-ranked West Texas A&M University, 73-65, before 2,151 at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pa.
The national championship is the first-ever for the 917-game winner Barbara Stevens and the Falcon women’s basketball program.
West Texas held the shooting advantage, 48-40 percent, and both teams hit five triples, but Bentley had the edge in most other categories.
The Falcons were a sizzling 22 of 24 from the line (as compared to 14 of 20 for WT), committed three fewer turnovers and had three more rebounds, including a 12-8 edge in offensive.
White had been watching from the sidelines since Dec. 7 as No. 1 Bentley University made its undefeated run. Just three minutes into her first collegiate start, the Souhegan High School graduate fell to the floor with a fractured fibula. She had already hit from outside the arc against St. Michael’s before the injury. She was averaging 18.4 minutes, 5.3 points and 1.4 assists, steals and rebounds per game heading into that ninth contest.
Milford High School graduate Dina Pitsas enjoyed quite a ride this winter. The Springfield College freshman played in 23 of 29 games during the Pride women’s basketball team’s Cinderella run to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Pitsas – who averaged 3.6 points per game (82 points) and 2.5 rebounds (57 rebounds) while totalling 33 assists, four blocks and 17 steals – steadily increased her playing time over the course of the season.
She averaged 17.8 minutes of play over the winter, but was on the floor for 30 minutes in Springfield’s 63-49 loss to Amherst in the first round of NCAA tournament action at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y.
The 5-foot-8 guard chipped in with four points, eight rebounds, one assist and two steals in the loss.
The Pride (17-12) made a surprising run to earn that NCAA bid, knocking off the top three-seeds in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference to win the league title a year removed from a 4-20 campaign.
In the NEWMAC quarterfinals, Pitsas recorded two points, two rebounds and two assists in a 57-54 win over Coast Guard.
She put up eight points and added one rebound, assist, block and steal in the Pride’s 78-63 semifinal win over Wheaton. In the 51-43 title game win over Smith, Pitsas scored two, rebounded five, blocked one and stole one to help Springfield lock up the NCAA berth.
Even with the sharpshooting of former Bishop Guertin standout Connor Green, Amherst College was unable to repeat as NCAA Division III national champions.
Just one season ago, the Bedford native was part of a Lord Jeffs title run in his freshman season.
This winter, with the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard averaging 17.9 points (518) and 5.8 rebounds (167) as a sophomore, they reached the Final Four again.
However, despite Green scoring a team-high 26 points in the NCAA semifinals, the outcome was different. Amherst (27-4) fell short, 98-69, against archrival Williams (28-5) in Salem, Va., on March 21.
As well as the Ephs shot in the first half they were even better in the second half, connecting on 70 percent of their 30 shots.
Couple hot shooting with a solid zone defense that limited Amherst to 38.2 percent shooting in the first half and 38.6 percent for the game and you have the recipe for a Williams win that ended an eight-game Amherst win streak in the series, an 11-game Lord Jeff win streak coming into the game, and extended the Ephs’ mastery against Amherst in the NCAA tournament to 5-0 all time.
Williams would eventually lose to Wisconsin-Whitewater, 75-73, on a layup with 0.9 seconds left in the Division III final.
Merrimack’s Rachael Carter’s commanding presence on the court at Salem State University in Salem, Mass., earned her a Second Team spot on the D3 hoops.com 2014 women’s All-Northeast Region team.
Carter, who started 26 of her 27 games played, finished with averages of 21.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
She also recorded 49 steals, 10 blocks and a .783 free-throw percentage.