Rockin' the Rim
The game stayed relatively close early, as Amherst slowly developed a lead thanks to great effort from junior guard Kim Fiorentino who scored 10 points on perfect four-for-four shooting from the floor. With the score at 34-26 with just over three minutes left in the first half, the Jeffs dialed up the defensive pressure, shutting out Williams for the remainder of the half and swelling the lead to 47-26, as junior standout Caroline Stedman capped off the run with a layup just before the buzzer. “We were able to ride the big run that we made in the first half,” said Stedman on the pre-halftime outburst. “Basketball is a game of runs and sometimes you just have to make one run to pull out a game.”
The Jeffs continued their stifling play after the break, keeping Williams at bay for more than the first six minutes of the second half. In all Amherst outscored Williams 20-0 in that nearly 10-minute stretch of the game. With the score at 54-26, it seemed as though the Jeffs had the game in the bag, but Williams showed some impressive fight to make the game interesting again. Williams would outscore Amherst 38-17 over the last 13 minutes of the game, but ultimately come up short with the final being 71-64. “The key was the large lead going into halftime,” said senior co-captain Sarah Leyman. “We were just able to weather their comeback in the second half.” Junior forward Lem Atanga McCormick led all scorers for the game with 16 points — in only 18 minutes of play — on an efficient 8-11 from the field. Stedman and senior co-captains Leyman and Jaci Daigneault also scored in the double-digits, along with Fiorentino’s first half showing. “We did what we had to do — people made big plays at the right times, and we locked down on defense, which allowed us to come out on top in the game,” said Daigneault, savoring the victory. “Williams is always a big game for us, no matter when we play them. We always come out with a lot of energy, which really gets us excited and helps us get into a flow on offense and defense.”
The final against a ranked Bowdoin team ended up being a walk in the park as Amherst came to play, inspired by their rivalry knockout of Williams earlier in the day. Bowdoin struggled to score, as they barely reached double-digits as a team by halftime, and Amherst stars Caroline Stedman and Jaci Daigneault lit up the gym to definitively claim the title. Stedman scored 23 points with five three-pointers, while Daigneault scored 19 to go along with seven rebounds. Fiorentino also tallied a career-high in assists with seven. “The NESCAC championship game was an outstanding display of our talent and determination as a team, but we all know that this isn’t our ultimate goal,” said co-captain Daigneault after the game. “Winning the title is obviously an amazing accomplishment, but our eyes are on the big prize. We know we have to take it one game at a time in the post season, but if we play as well as we did in the NESCAC championship, we are going to be hard to beat.” Bowdoin had previously been 8-0 in conference championship games, and 27-2 in the NESCAC tournament.
The Jeffs will have little time to celebrate their third conference championship in the past four years, as they will host the Husson Eagles from the North Atlantic Conference in round one of the NCAA tournament this Friday at Lefrak gymnasium. The winner of that game will move on to Saturday’s round two to play the winner of Baruch and Eastern Connecticut State. Amherst beat Eastern Connecticut State 79-55 earlier this season. “Preparing for the NCAA tournament will be like preparing for every other game this season,” said Stedman. “We are going to push each other to make each other better as individuals and as a team.” “We’re peaking at the right time and we’re just going to keep getting better every day in practice to prepare,” added Leyman. “Practices these next few weeks need to be challenging and competitive to get us ready for the NCAA tournament. We need to come focused and excited everyday and be ready to work hard,” piped in Daigneault. “I know we will.”