Leal Sinks Free Throw, Seahawks as Women’s Basketball Heads to Postseason

Leal Sinks Free Throw, Seahawks as Women’s Basketball Heads to Postseason

NEWPORT, R.I. - The Curry College women's basketball team survived a close call with the Salve Regina Seahawks in Newport, Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon. The Colonels came away with a 70-69 victory in a tune up for the postseason, having already locked up the fifth seed in the upcoming Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Tournament. With the win, the Colonels finish the regular season with a record of 14-11, having won four of their last five match ups, as well as notching double digit wins in the CCC at 10-6. The Seahawks fall to 10-15, dropping six of their final seven regular season games while wrapping up their CCC schedule with a 6-10 mark, good enough for the sixth seed in the CCC tourney.

Curry won the tip, but failed to capitalize as a drive by senior guard Emily Irwin (Billerica, Mass.) came up empty. The Colonels defense stayed stout as always, however, and forced a turnover on the first pair of Salve possessions, which led to Irwin putting in the first points of the game off a steal and assist by junior Sam Bamford (Easton, Mass.). Lauryn Becker (Hanover, Mass.) got the hosts on the board not long after with a pair of free throws to tie it early on at 2-2, but a 6-0 Curry run put the Colonels in control, as freshman Amanda Leal (Tyngsboro, Mass.) capped the streak with a triple. The teams would trade baskets over the following five minutes of action, but a Becker layup brought Salve back to within one possession of their foes, making the score 15-12 with 1:44 remaining in the first quarter. Senior Molly Plunkett (Quincy, Mass.) returned the lead to five with her first points of the day, but Torie Scorpio (Cranston, R.I.) controlled the final minute of the frame, scoring the final four points on a free throw and a buzzer beating, half court three pointer, to cut the deficit to one at 17-16 heading into the break. Curry made the most of several Seahawk mistakes over the first stanza, converting 10 turnovers into 10 points, despite getting outrebounded 11-3.

As the second quarter got underway, Salve flipped the script, as a Curry turnover led to a bucket by senior Kerri Beland (Attleboro, Mass.), giving Salve their first lead of the day at 18-17. On the following Curry possession, a shot from distance which looked to be off the mark from Irwin wound up drawing a foul, sending the senior captain to the free throw line for a trio of chances, of which she hit all three to retake the lead. After a missed triple on the other end, Plunkett found her stroke from beyond the arc for the Colonels, pushing the lead back to five. Curry would continue on an 8-1 run, but the Seahawks swung the momentum back by scoring 10 unanswered points on scores from Scorpio, Beland, and Liv Pierce (Tyngsboro, Mass.). The Seahawks nearly had the chance to extend their lead further, but a Curry foul call got changed to a Salve travel, which gave the Colonels the ball and led to a basket by freshman Peyton Perine (Fairfax, Va.) to cut the hosts' lead in half at 29-27. Following the score, the Seahawks offense hit a speed bump, committing a pair of turnovers which led to back-to-back three pointers by Plunkett and Bamford to give the lead back to Curry. After a pair of missed shots and turnovers, Salve stopped the bleeding with a jumper from Brooke Vonasek (Willington, Conn.), but freshman Zuquila Mbachiantim (Stratford, Conn.) brought the Curry lead back to 10 at 41-31 with just a minute and a half remaining in the second quarter. Each team would score once more before the intermission, but the story of the first half continued, as the Colonels converted 27 points off of 18 turnovers in the first half, while Salve continued their dominance on the boards, with a 21-5 edge after two quarters.

The Colonels got the ball to start the second half, but the Seahawks refused to budge, forcing four missed shots over the first three minutes which allowed the hosts to cut the lead all the way down to two at 42-40, before Irwin and Perine got Curry's third quarter scoring started with baskets on consecutive possessions. The teams once again traded points until the Colonels made a home at the charity stripe, going eight for nine from the line within three minutes of play. Tara Burke (Londonderry, N.H.) would break up the free shooting with a layup before Pierce hit a freebie of her own, but the Colonels retained a 56-50 advantage heading into the final frame.

The Colonels opened the fourth quarter scoring with a Perine basket after a pair of offensive rebounds, but Scorpio was right behind with a three to pull the score to 58-53. After costly misses at the free throw line, Curry saw their lead quickly evaporate thanks to a Salve run capped by another Scorpio triple to tie the score at 58. The score would stay knotted for nearly two minutes before a Beland three gave Salve their first lead of the half, but an Irwin triple on the following possession made it 61-all. With 3:54 remaining in regulation and the score knotted, Plunkett got whistled for a loose ball foul trying to secure a rebound, disqualifying her for the remainder as the foul was her fifth. After the senior fouled out, her classmate Irwin took control, scoring the next four Curry points, giving the visitors a brief lead before a Scorpio free throw brought the contest back to a tie at 65-65, also getting Bamford to foul out in the process. With two key defensive pieces on the bench, the Colonels struggled to avoid the whistle, as a pair of Salve free throws put the hosts back on top. It was a deficit soon erased, however, as Perine collected her own rebound and put back a layup to make the score 67-67 with under a minute left to play. Following the basket, Salve called a timeout to plot a course for the final 39 seconds. Out of the pause, a Scorpio miss from the floor led to a long jumper from Irwin for two to take the lead, prompting another Seahawk timeout. This time however, the break paid off, as Scorpio got the inbounds pass and drove through the lane for a layup to knot it at 69, prompting a timeout by the visitors. With 5 ticks left, the Colonels inbounded the ball to Leal, who drew the fifth and final foul on Becker and got to the line once more. Leal hit the first to take the lead, but a miss on the second got collected by the hosts, who took yet another timeout with just 3 seconds to play. As the inbound pass once more found its way to Scorpio, the Curry defense masterfully surrounded her as time expired, not allowing any shots at the buzzer, securing a tight conference victory by a score of 70-69.

Curry's scoring was led by three double digit scorers in Leal (10), Perine (16), and Irwin (25), who led all scorers. Bamford also registered a team high with five assists while Mbachiantim snatched six rebounds and a pair of blocks to pace the Colonels. Irwin and Bamford each put up five steals in the victory, finishing the season with the first and third most steals in the conference, respectively. Irwin's aggressive defense throughout the year also secured her the top spot in all of NCAA Division III Women's Basketball in both steals (123) and steals per game (5.12), as her 19 thefts over the final three games of the regular season handed her each honor by a significant margin.

Scorpio (22) and Beland (18) each put up double digit points for the Seahawks, while Burke's 14 boards led the hosts in the losing effort. Scorpio also led the way with seven assists while Burke notched the only Salve block of the afternoon. Despite falling in a close one, the Seahawks still managed to celebrate their Senior Night as all five seniors started for the Seahawks, recording 37 points, 31 rebounds, seven assists, and seven steals in 114 combined minutes of play.

As the regular season closes, the Colonels look to take this momentum into a quarterfinal match up with the fourth seeded Hawks, as Curry will travel to Bristol, R.I. to face Roger Williams University on Tuesday, February 19 at 5:30 p.m. The Colonels will look to forget 59-55 and 57-54 losses to Roger Williams, one of just two CCC teams to sweep Curry this season. The Seahawks now look ahead to their quarterfinal tilt with the third seeded Golden Bears of Western New England, as Salve will also hit the road on Tuesday, heading to Springfield, Mass. for a 7:00 p.m. tip off. WNE will look to down the Seahawks for the third time this year, after 51-50 and 53-37 victories on the season.

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