As the scoreboard suggests, Amherst’s first-round game against Husson University didn’t stay competitive for long. With the Jeffs taking a 10-point lead in less than four minutes into the game and securing a 20-point cushion before the half, Head Coach G.P Gromacki was able to spread out the minutes, keeping everybody fresh moving forward. Senior co-captain Sarah Leyman played the most with only 23 minutes on the court, just more than a half’s worth. Five Lady Jeffs scored in double digits, including senior co-captain Jaci Daigneault, who led the team with 23 points in only 18 minutes of playing time. Junior Caroline Stedman and sophomore Jasmine Hardy had 11, while junior Shannon Finucane and sophomore Marcia Voigt scored 10 apiece. Husson only managed to score 13 points the entire second half, as Amherst allowed only 11 field goals the whole game.
Saturday’s contest against Eastern Connecticut proved closer than the first-round domination, but still comfortable for the red-hot Jeffs. Junior Kim Fiorentino set the tone for the game early, assisting the first basket of the game to Daigneault and soon after blocking an Eastern Connecticut layup, getting the rebound, and scoring a layup of her own on the other side of the court for a great individual effort. Fiorentino would go on to score 16 points on perfect shooting, including four three-pointers, with a couple rebounds, an assist, zero turnovers and two blocks before being subbed out with six minutes to play in the first half. She would finish the night with a game-high 19 points, shooting a staggering 5-6 mark from beyond the arc. In true selfless Amherst women’s basketball fashion, Fiorentino attributed her great shooting night to the play of the team. “They had a good defensive strategy, but with all the offensive threats on our team they were not able to contain us all,” said Fiorentino. “That allowed me to see some open shots and I was able to take advantage.”
Following Fiorentino’s outstanding first half, the Jeffs continued to slowly build on their lead in the second half, eventually stretching it to 22 and earning the victory. Leyman ended the game with a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, also tallying six steals and three assists. Junior Lem Atanga McCormick rounded out Amherst players in double digits for the game with 11 points in her 16 minutes off the bench.
Amherst will now play Muhlenberg College in the Sweet Sixteen at 7 p.m. on Friday, and nobody on the team is taking this next game lightly. “Muhlenberg is really hot right now. They’ve had big come from behind wins in both of their first two tournament games and so will be coming in here with a lot of energy,” said Hardy. “We know we need to focus in on their personnel and interrupt their flow. They have two big scorers who we need to shut down.” In fact, Muhlenberg knocked Amherst’s rival Williams out of the tournament in the first round in a one-point thriller 64-63, and any Amherst athlete knows that beating Williams is no small feat.
With the way the bracket is shaping up, this may have been the last of the comfortable blowouts the Lord Jeff faithful will enjoy. “With only 16 teams left in the tournament, everyone will be talented and no team should be underestimated,” said senior Kristyn Dunleavy. “We always try to focus more on ourselves and how we can improve to play our best.” If the Jeffs win against Muhlenberg on Friday they will play the winner of undefeated Babson College and NESCAC runner-ups Bowdoin in the Elite Eight on Saturday at 6 p.m. Amherst has beaten Bowdoin twice this year by a combined score of 144-85, including a 72-37 trouncing in the NESCAC Championship Game. “Going forward, we are just taking one game at a time, and concentrating on doing the little things right to go 2-0 this weekend,” said McCormick repeating Amherst women’s basketball philosophy. “Now that we are in the tournament every shot, and every rebound counts more than ever.”
Fortunately for Amherst, both this round and the next will again be hosted at Lefrak Gymnasium. The Jeffs haven’t lost at home in 47 straight games at home. “We are very confident and love playing at home,” said Finucane. “We love having our fans and family at the games and look forward to hosting.”
The winner of this sectional will earn the right to play in the Final Four in Bloomington, Illinois. The Jeffs could potentially meet up with Kean University in the Final Four for a rematch with the only team that has gotten the better of Amherst this season if both teams win their next two games. But for right now, Amherst women’s basketball is only focused on one thing—next Friday, 7 p.m. at Lefrak.