SALISBURY, Md. – In an instant Capital Athletic Conference championship classic, the No. 18 Salisbury University women's basketball team overcame two deficits in the final seconds of regulation and the first overtime to claim a 74-68 victory over second-seeded University of Mary Washington to hoist the league trophy on Saturday afternoon in Maggs Physical Activities Center.
The title is the fourth in program history, and the first since the 2001-'02 season.
Seeing a countless amount of action in the second half, everyone was on their feet in a packed gymnasium with 16 seconds remaining in regulation. Down just three points, Salisbury had an opportunity to tie up the ball game. Moving the ball around looking for an opportunity, senior Anna Hackett drove the lane to find senior Melanie Mocniak posted up in the left corner from long distance. Getting a shot off but unable to connect, the Eagles made the mistake of fouling Mocniak in the process, sending her to the line for three shots, all of which she dropped in to tie the game at 57-57.
With time still left on the clock, Mary Washington brought the ball down looking for a chance to claim the game. Finding some space down the lane, Eagles' Claire Haeuptle went in for the right-side finish, but Mocniak came up big on the defensive end swatting the ball away as the clock expired.
The Eagles opened up the first overtime with the first two buckets to take a four-point lead, but Mocniak carried over the momentum she set at the end of regulation into the extra time. Senior Courtney McManus, with the ball on the right wing, found Mocniak at the top of the key for the long ball to draw the Gulls within one, 61-60.
Mary Washington quickly capitalized on the other end with a layup, before it would make the same mistake on the next series as it did at the end of regulation, fouling Mocniak on a three-point attempt. With 27.9 seconds remaining, the senior forward was sent back to the line where she showed her consistency, hitting all three again to tie the game up 63-63.
With time ticking away, the Eagles made their way to the free-throw line, following a foul on defensive pressure, to take a two-point lead in the closing seconds, forcing the Sea Gulls to come up with another game-tying play. Bringing the ball up the court, Hackett cleared some space down the lane, making a perfect bounce pass to the right side of the baseline where junior Kathy Albornoz was waiting for the ball. Catching the pass, Albornoz went up for the layup and sent the game to a second overtime with a 65-65 score.
Although the Eagles opened the extra time scoring first with a three-pointer, the Gulls had too much momentum to hold back in the five minutes of play. Mocniak connected first for SU, mixing up her game with a step-back three-pointer at the top of the arc to draw the score even. On the quick inbounds by UMW, McManus wrestled the ball away from the Eagles' Sarah Listenbee to reclaim the possession, which was turned into two points by an Albornoz jumper.
Continuing the offensive push, Hackett found some space on the next series down the right side of the lane, making a strong finish at the rim before Mocniak capped off the scoring with a jumper to seal up the victory, 74-68, and bring the title back to Salisbury for the first time in 13 years.
Hackett paced the offense through the 50-minute contest, posting a game-high 26 points, along with six assists. Mocniak finished with 15 points, including 2-for-2 from behind the arc and 7-for-8 from the charity stripe, while senior Sarah Seipp chipped in for 10 points. Sophomore Lauren Rothfeld and Albornoz guided the defense, as Rothfeld recorded a game-high five steals and Albornoz added a team-high eight rebounds.
The victory not only gives the Sea Gulls the conference's automatic bid into the national tournament, for the first time since 2001-'02, but it also marks a new feat in program history. The 25th triumph of the season sets a new record for wins in a single season. The previous record was 24 set twice in back-to-back seasons at the beginning of the new millennium.
Salisbury will now await its placement into the NCAA tournament. The Selection Show is set to take place on Monday, March 2 at 2:30 p.m. For more information on postseason play and the women's basketball team, check out www.suseagulls.com as the information becomes available.