Top-ranked Amherst advances to women's title game

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The No. 1 Amherst women's basketball team advanced to its first NCAA Division III title game since the 2011 season following a 66-51 win over No. 10 Christopher Newport on Friday evening in NCAA Final Four action at Van Noord Arena on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

With the win, Amherst improves to 32-0 on the season and will take on NESCAC rival No. 4 Tufts University (30-2), Saturday March 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Van Noord Arena. The Jumbos defeated No. 2 University of St. Thomas, 60-57 in the other semifinal contest. Christopher Newport concludes its season 29-3 overall.

Who will win the women's title game?
Amherst by five or more
Amherst by 1-4
Tufts by 1-4
Tufts by five or more

Christopher Newport opened the scoring when Bailey Dufrene converted a layup to give the Captains an early, 2-0 edge. Amherst answered with eight straight points as Jaimie Renner '17, Meredith Doswell '17, Ali Doswell '17 and Hannah Hackley '18 each made a basket to make it 8-2. After being held scoreless for over five minutes, Christopher Newport's Sam Porter drained a pair of free throws to make it 8-4. The Purple & White answered when Hackley delivered a beautiful pass to Emma McCarthy '19 who finished with a bucket underneath to set the score at 10-4.

Emma McCarthy was one of nine Amherst players to score on Friday night, with nine points on 3-for-4 shooting.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com 

Amherst later extended its lead to 13-6, before a pair of Madeline Eck '20 free throws with 11 seconds remaining in the quarter gave the Purple & White a 15-8 cushion at intermission. McCarthy finished the quarter with a team-best four points, while Meredith Doswell and Hackley pulled in four rebounds each.

"We were prepared and ready. I thought our team came out fighting to win," said Amherst coach G.P. Gromacki. "It was fun to watch my team perform at that level right out of the gates."

In the second stanza, Amherst pushed its lead to 20-10 following a trey by Ali Doswell and a layup by Meredith Doswell before the Captains responded with a triple by Makenzie Fancher to make it 20-13. A layup and ensuing foul shot by Ali Doswell at the 5:06 mark gave the Purple & White a 25-13 advantage, and a stellar defensive effort kept Christopher Newport's offense at bay with just five points halfway through the second frame. With less than 40 seconds to play in the first half, Hackley swished a trey to set the score at 34-16. She then hit the second of two free throws with three ticks on the clock to give the Purple & White a 35-16 lead at intermission.

Ali Doswell was 5-for-8 from the floor in the first half and led all players with 12 points. Meredith Doswell and Hackley added six points and six boards each. Hackley also dished out four assists in the first 20 minutes. The Captains were led by Porter's four points, while Makeda Wright pulled in four rebounds.

Christopher Newport came out firing in the third quarter as Dufrene cashed in a trey, while Porter swished a pair from the charity stripe to make it 37-21 with 8:34 on the clock. Amherst responded scoring four of the next five points as an Ali Doswell bucket in the paint gave the Purple & White a 41-22 lead. McCarthy then hit the front end of two foul shots to extend the lead to 20 points with 5:55 left in the third period.

The lead stayed at 20 points until the Captains' Devon Byrd put back an offensive rebound to make it 46-28 with 3:10 left in the third quarter. A bucket by Jackie Nagle '18 and a three-point play by Meghan Sullivan '19 with 1:40 left in the session gave Amherst a 51-28 lead. A triple by Zhara Tannor cut the Christopher Newport deficit back to 20 points, and a pair of makes at the foul line by Porter closed the gap to 18 points as the quarter ended with Amherst ahead, 53-35.

In the fourth frame, Eck converted an and-one, and Maeve McNamara '19 struck from long distance to help the Purple & White run its lead to 59-37. A fast-break layup by Fancher at the 2:47 mark pulled the Captains back to within 20 (63-43), and four makes from the foul line by Porter narrowed their deficit to 63-47. A basket by Anitra Thomas then set the score to 63-49, but Christopher Newport could get no closer as Amherst held on for the convincing win.

The championship game vs. Tufts will be the first time that two teams from the same conference have met for the national championship in Division III basketball, men's or women's. 

"The rivalry runs deep with them. We know what they do and they know what we do," said Ali Doswell. "It just comes down to who can execute the best tomorrow."

BY THE NUMBERS

  • Ali Doswell led Amherst with 16 points, while Eck followed with 11 points.
  • On the glass, Meredith Doswell and Hackley combined for 16 rebounds to help seal the win.
  • Amherst shot 51.1% from the floor and 18.8% from beyond-the-arc. The Purple & White also hit 70.8% of their shots from the free throw line.
  • Christopher Newport was led by Porter who finished with 16 points, while Byrd and Tannor totaled seven each. On the glass, Wright finished with five rebounds, while Byrd followed with four.
  • The Captains shot 34% from the field, 27.3% from three-point range, and 85.7% from the charity stripe in the losing effort.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE

  • Amherst and Tufts have met twice this season with the Purple & White notching a 36-35 victory in the regular season matchup on Feb. 4 in Medford, Mass. Amherst then earned a 41-37 win in the NESCAC Championship title game to earn its second straight conference crown and the program's seventh overall.
  • Amherst and the Jumbos have met once before in NCAA Tournament action as the Purple & White edged Tufts, 47-42 in NCAA Third Round action in 2013.
  • This is Amherst's second NCAA Championship title game appearance. The last came in 2011 with the Purple & White clinching the program's first-ever national championship, 64-55 over Washington University –St. Louis.