Thoroughbreds defeat Vassar to advance to title game

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. –  Senior guard Ari Fustini scored a career-high 19 points, leading the top-seeded Skidmore College women's basketball team to the Liberty League Championship game after a 60-45 victory over No. 5 Vassar, in the league semifinal Saturday at the Williamson Sports Center.
The Thoroughbreds (17-9) advance to the tournament finals for the third time, its first visit since the 2014-15 season. Skidmore will face defending tournament champion, No. 2 RIT in the league title game Sunday at 2 p.m. Vassar falls to 17-10 on the season.
The Thoroughbreds saw balanced scoring with three players scoring in double digits. Fustini was hot today from deep, making 5-for-8 shots from 3-point range to end with a career-high 19 points. The senior also grabbed five rebounds and nabbed a pair of steals. Kelly Donnelly tied her season high of 13 rebounds, adding 17 points for her ninth double-double of the season. She also grabbed her 1,000th career rebound in the second quarter, making her the only player in program history to have tallied 1,600 points and 1,000 rebounds. Senior guard Veronica Moceri added 14 points on 56 percent shooting (5-for-9) from the field, adding five rebounds, and four assists. Senior forward Caite Opfer was active on both ends of the court, adding seven points, seven rebounds, and three steals.
The Thoroughbreds scored 18 points off turnovers and 24 points in the paint. They hit 41.1 percent of their shots from the field and won the battle of the boards, 37-34.
"I'm happy for our kids and proud of the way they played today," said head coach Darren Bennett. "They stepped up big time. Kelly was Kelly and Veronica kept her foot on the gas, but Ari brought it today and that was big. When we can spread some scoring out everyone becomes more dangerous. Tomorrow we need a lot of repeat performances from our top players but we also need some other kids to do some things. Our entire team has to give us something on both ends. It's going to take a full game of total focus and execution in tomorrow's game to get it done."
Isa Peczuh scored 13 points and two assists to lead the Brewers, while Ariella Rosenthal added eight points and seven rebounds. Skidmore held Vassar to just 28.3 percent shooting from the field in the contest.
After an even first half, it was a dominant third quarter that gave the Thoroughbreds control of the contest, outscoring the Brewers 17-6. It began with a 7-0 Skidmore run in 1:49 as they jumped out to a 32-25 advantage. Skidmore would hold the Brewers to 25 percent shooting in the quarter (3-for-12), stretching its lead to double digits by quarter's end at 42-31.
Vassar would make a final run in the fourth quarter, slowly chipping away at the Skidmore deficit. A Samarah Cook jumper with 2:14 remaining reduced Skidmore's deficit to five, at 50-45. Skidmore would close things out with a 10-0 run, pulling away for the 15-point victory.
"We put a lot of things together today especially in the second half in front of a great crowd," said Bennett. "There is no doubt that playing at home has its advantages and our crowd today was on the money we really needed them and thank them for their support."
Vassar held a 5-2 lead until the 2:37 mark of the first quarter, when Fustini came back to tie the game at five with a 3-pointer from a Haley English assist. Donnelly helped the cause, adding six points to finish the quarter with the 11-10 lead.
The second quarter saw a very similar tone as the first. Neither team led for more than three points. After a 3-point play from Fustini to brought Skidmore back up by five (25-20) with 2:50 left in the quarter, the Brewers kept chipping away, scoring the final five points in the period to tie the game at 25 heading to the half.
In the second semifinal, No. 2 RIT (21-5) would weather a furious run by No. 3 Ithaca (20-7) in the third quarter to pick up the 68-61 victory. Amanda Olsen led the Tigers with a 15-point, 12-rebound double double. Tara Lynch added 15 points. Cassidy O'Malley led Ithaca with 16 points, while Julie Yacovani added 12 points and 13 rebounds.
This is the first time that RIT and Skidmore will meet in a postseason game. The teams split the season series 1-1, with each team winning on its home court.