Chris Kendrick (@CKendrick86)
CHICOPEE, Mass. – The Elms College women's basketball team punched their ticket into the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Semifinals after defeating visiting Daniel Webster College, 88-57, in a NECC Championship Quarterfinal tilt at Picknelly Arena Tuesday night. With the win, the Blazers improve to 16-10 on the season, while Daniel Webster wraps their campaign with an 8-18 mark.
Play was tight during the first quarter with four points being the largest gap of the frame as the Eagles jumped to a 4-0 lead on buckets from junior Natasha Santana (Lawrence, Mass.) and senior Briana Diggs (Washington D.C.). The Blazers grabbed their first lead of the contest as senior Alexandra Marques (Newington, Conn.) delivered a three-point play at the 5:48 mark to give Elms a 9-8 lead. The Blazers advanced the lead to 13-10 on a drive from freshman Molly Moulton (North Adams, Mass.), but back-to-back jumpers from junior Amanda Gendron (Mont Vernon, N.H.) handed the Eagles a 16-15 advantage after the opening period.
The Blazers took the lead for good in the second quarter as six straight points from sophomore Chaniah Pantry (New Haven, Conn.) and a three-pointer from classmate Kayla Aberdale (Housatonic, Mass.) pushed Elms ahead 29-22 with 5:55 left in the half. The Eagles battled back behind a 9-2 run over the next two minutes, paced by seven points from junior Escarlin Reynoso (Lawrence, Mass.) to even the score at 31-31. The Blazers regained control with a 9-2 run to close the half with a 40-33 lead.
Elms put the Eagles in the rear view in the third quarter, outscoring Daniel Webster, 29-11, during the period. The Blazers opened the scoring with a 6-0 run, and then raced ahead behind eight points from Pantry to capture a 56-35 advantage. Santana knocked down a pair of jumpers for the Eagles to trim into the gap, but Elms wrapped the quarter with an 11-4 run to hold a 69-44 lead heading into the fourth.
The Blazers carried an 8-3 run over the opening four minutes of the frame to build a 77-47 lead. A drive from senior Emily Burr (East Hartford, Conn.) capped another 8-3 spurt to give the Blazers their largest lead of the contest, 85-50, with 4:35 to play. Santana added four points late for the Eagles as Elms rolled to the 88-57 victory.
Pantry powered the Blazers with the best performance of her career, pouring in a career-high 24 points, shooting 10-of-16 from the floor, with a career-high 22 rebounds and three blocks for her sixth double-double of the season. Marques logged her 17th double-double of the season with 12 points and 17 rebounds, while Burr tallied 16 points and six rebounds. Junior Mackenzie LaRochelle (Chicopee, Mass.) added 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists, and freshman Samantha Lynes (Berlin, Conn.) dished out a career-high five assists in the win.
"I thought we started off a little slow tonight," said Elms College Head Coach Michelle Proulx. "In the second half, we started to attacking a lot better and using our post players effectively, but our defense was much better in the second half. One of the biggest strengths of our post players is offensive rebounding, they have a nose for the ball and go and get it. We need to a better job of finishing on the front end, but we did a good job of creating second-chance opportunities with our rebounding. Chaniah and Alex have been excelling during the second semester, and now they are playing really well at the right time of the year. [Becker] is a really young, tough, skilled team that plays hard with a lot of energy. They are more of a traditional team with scorers everywhere, they have a lot of guards and a couple of really skilled post players. It's going to come down to defense for us. In our second game against Becker, we played a poor first half and then we came out and locked them down defensively, which allowed our offense to come easy to us. It will be a tough matchup, but it's been the same thing for us all year, if we can control the rebounding numbers, control our turnovers, and play well defensively, we'll come out on the right end."
The Eagles had three scorers in double figures, led by a double-double effort from senior Kayla Free (Quincy, Mass.) with a team-high 19 points and a team-high 18 rebounds. Reynoso registered 15 points, four rebounds and three steals, while Santana chipped in 14 points, six rebounds and three assists.
The Blazers dominated the glass with a program-high 85 rebounds, including 35 offensive rebounds, to 44 rebounds for the Eagles. Elms connected on 36.3% (33-of-91) from the floor, including 33.3% (5-of-15) from three-point range, and 58.6% (17-of-29) from the foul line. Daniel Webster shot 28.6% (24-of-84) from the field, 16.7% (2-of-12) from three-point, and 35% (7-of-20) from the free throw stripe.
The Blazers advance to the NECC Championship Semifinals to face third-seed Becker College Thursday night at Picknelly Arena at 7:00 p.m.