GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Amherst College claimed a 66-51 victory over Christopher Newport University in the 2017 NCAA Division III Tournament Semifinal.
"Our team came out fighting to win," said Amherst head women's basketball coach G.P. Gromacki. "We came here to win two games. It was fun to watch our team perform at that level right out of the gates."
Despite the Captains' dynamic, high-pressure defense, the Purple & White came out of strong and never let up.
"They (Christopher Newport) changed defenses so well," said Gromacki. "We weren't used to seeing that this year. They trapped in the half court and pressed a few different ways. At times it looked a bit scary. The main thing was that we didn't panic and were able to get a couple easy baskets off of it."
"They really kept us on our toes," said Division III Player of the Year Ali Doswell (Richmond, Va./St. Catherine's). "Their defense was switching all the time. We just had to be prepared for that, which is something we've been working on all week."
With the victory, the Purple & White remains undefeated on the year at 32-0 and will face a familiar face, Tufts University (30-2), in the NCAA Division III Championships Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Saturday's contest will serve as the third meeting of the season between the two New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) teams, with Amherst holding a 2-0 advantage. The matchup marks the first time in NCAA Division III men's and women's basketball history that two teams from the same conference will face off in the championship game.
Gromacki noted that the historic nature of the game adds to tomorrow's matchup. "We've been preparing for this moment for a long time. It's going to be a fun one."
Christopher Newport's Bailey Dufrene (Manassas, Va./Osbourn) scored the first bucket of the game, but Amherst responded with an 8-0 run, including four points by Ali Doswell (Richmond, Va./St. Catherine's).
Neither team would score for the next three minutes until Sam Porter (Alexandria, Va./Mount Vernon) sunk a pair of free throws for the Captains. Behind a pair of layups by Emma McCarthy (Shelton, Conn./Lauralton Hall) along with three made foul shots, the Purple & White outscored the Captains 7-4 to close out the first quarter for a 15-8 lead.
The Captains scored first in the second quarter, but the Doswell sisters answered for the Purple & White, Ali Doswell first with a three-pointer followed by a layup by Meredith Doswell (Richmond, Va./St. Catherine's), giving their team a 10-point lead.
The Captains were unable to score for 4:30, while Amherst's offense continued to roll. After a triple by Christopher Newport's Makenzie Fancher (New Freedom, Pa./Susquehannock), Ali Doswell scored five straight points to increase the lead to 25-13.
In the final three minutes of the half, the Purple & White outscored Christopher Newport 10-2 to possess a comfortable 35-16 lead heading into halftime.
"I thought we came out and didn't play our game," said Christopher Newport head women's basketball coach Bill Broderick. "We were a little bit tentative. Until the second half, we didn't get into it."
Scoring in the second half was more evenly balanced as Christopher Newport outscored Amherst 19-18 in the third quarter and 16-13 in the fourth.
"I'm really proud of our ladies," said Broderick. "They didn't quit, not that I would even think they would, but they played so hard."
The Amherst bench fended off the Captains' comeback efforts, scoring 20 second-half points.
"We got to rest our starters and main people off the bench, but it's great to get everyone in to play in a Final Four," noted Gromacki regarding the contributions from his entire roster. "They did an outstanding job with it and performed well at a high level, which will only give them confidence tomorrow or next year."
Fueled by the Doswell sisters, the Purple & White built their lead to 22 points as the midpoint of the third quarter neared. Devon Byrd's (Grottoes, Va./Fort Defiance) offensive efforts helped narrow the gap to 18 points on two separate occasions, but a 5-0 Amherst run, including a three-point play by Meghan Sullivan (Granby, Mass./Granby Junior-Senior), gave the Purple & White a 51-28 lead, their largest of the evening thus far.
After a late third quarter push by Christopher Newport's Porter, the scoreboard read 53-35 in favor of Amherst heading into the final quarter.
The Captains help Amherst scoreless for nearly three minutes late in the contest, scoring 10 points themselves. However, they ran out of time as Amherst hit three free throws in the final 32 seconds to take the 17-point win.
Division III Women's Basketball Player of the year Ali Doswell led Amherst with 16 points. Madeline Eck (Rye, N.Y./Rye) followed with 11 points, also earning four steals. Meredith Doswell played a solid all-around game, posting nine rebounds, eight points and four assists.
Christopher Newport was led by Porter who recorded 16 points, including a perfect 10-10 from the charity stripe.
The Captains finish 29-3, including the program's first Capital Athletic Conference Championship, both regular season and tournament. Christopher Newport graduates two seniors, Savannah Melvin (South Riding, Va./Freedom-South Riding) and Taylor Delgado (Vienna, Va./Georgetown Visitation). This year marked the program's second National Semifinal appearance in its 45-year history.
"I'm excited that we'll have 17 people back next year," said Broderick. "We're young. It's a learning process. Team chemistry is unbelievable and our girls play for eachother. This is something we can build off."
Amherst outrebounded Christopher Thomas 66-51 and shot 51.1% from the field while the Captains shot 34%.
"We have to beat a really good team tomorrow," said Ali Doswell. "The rivalry runs deep for us. It will be whoever executes the best out there."
AMHERST POST-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE
CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT POST-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE