The teams traded baskets early, tallying seven lead changes over the opening ten minutes of the game, neither team seeming to want to pull away. With Amherst leading 15-14 a little over halfway through the first half, Trinity star Kaitlyn Ciarleglio knocked down a pair of free throws to put Trinity up by a point. That would prove to be Trinity’s last lead of the night, as Amherst responded with a frenzy of points coming from senior co-captain Jaci Daigneault and junior guard Kim Fiorentino.
The two Amherst standouts led the Jeffs to halftime with a 31-20 lead and a whole lot of momentum. The team did not take its foot off the gas coming out of the break either, scoring the first ten points of the second half and forcing a desperation timeout from the Trinity bench about three minutes in.
The 41-20 lead would prove to be more than enough as coach G. P. Gromacki would feel comfortable enough to give the starters some rest in the second half, looking ahead to the upcoming rounds. The Jeffs would still manage to only give up 12 points the entire second period en route to the 57-32 final tally.
Daigneault led the team with 15 points, also bringing down a game-high 11 rebounds for a double-double to round out a per usual All-American caliber day. Senior forward Lem Atanga-McCormick also scored 11 points in her 20 minutes of playing time, the only other Lord Jeff to score in double digits. Finally Fiorentino finished the game with an impressive game-high five steals, with solid minutes coming from a host of other Amherst players, as well. No Trinity player reached double digit scoring for the game. “Teams will bring their best games against us in the tournament because everyone is fighting for their season to continue,” said Leyman looking forward. Deservedly, Amherst will get to fight again next weekend.
The win locks up Amherst for a date in the semifinals with none other than bitter rival Williams College. Amherst has beaten Williams handily in their previous two meetings this year and will look to continue the trend this Saturday at 2 p.m. Despite the lopsided victories earlier this year, the game is sure to be hard-fought, as Amherst-Williams in postseason play is never without excitement. “Preparation is the key,” says Fiorentino. “We need to practice hard so that we can execute on game day.”
Williams is seeded fourth in the tournament and had to sneak by fifth ranked Tufts in overtime 69-64 to secure a semifinal birth. Fortunately for Amherst, both the semifinal and final rounds will be hosted at Lefrak Gymnasium, where the Jeffs have not come close to losing a game all year and hold a 43-game winning streak dating back to several years ago. “The team is playing really hard with the intensity that we need,” said Leyman. “We’ve still got adjustments to make and, once again, the best part is that we can still play better and can now peak at the critical moment in the season.”
Winning the NESCAC Championship would obviously be a huge accomplishment, but it would almost assuredly lock up Amherst for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament come March. But that might be getting too far ahead for a team disciplined enough to always take it one game at a time, preparing and staying focused to win basketball games.