With almost 300 cheering fans in the Hawk Center, the women’s basketball team showed the crowd just why they deserved a spot in the NCAA championships, defeating Rutgers University-Newark and Emmanuel College to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in three years.
The Hawks got off to a fast start Friday night against Rutgers-Newark, opening the first quarter with a 13-0 lead. Fourth-year guard Rachel Simon ended the quarter with a pair of free throws at :04 that left the crowd on their feet after not allowing the Scarlet Raiders to score a single point.
“That’s one thing that we really emphasized, securing the ball,” Simon said. “You can’t score unless you have the ball, you got to get defensive stops, can’t let them get to the glass like that and it starts with rebounding.”
Second-year forward Nicole Ziogas extended the lead to 15 to start the second quarter while Simon hit the first two 3-pointers of the night to extend the Hawks lead to 26-10, leaving New Paltz with a solid 18-point lead by the end of the half.
An 8-0 run started the second half, with third-year guard Marion Dietz capping the score with a bucket at 7:05. The Hawks continued to score with vigor, going up 45-19 at the end of the quarter.
Third-year forward Paige Niemeyer sunk a 3-pointer to start the fourth, and helped increase the Hawk’s lead by as much as 33 in the quarter. A defeated Rutgers-Newark fought to increase their large deficit, and put themselves within 30 points with two minutes left, but ultimately ended their season to the Hawks at 65-36.
Saturday the Hawks played Emmanuel College in the second round of the NCAA championship games, winning in a landslide, 80-49.
New Paltz played one their best defensive games of the season, and executed their game plan perfectly according to head coach Jamie Seward.
“Our defense was the catalyst. We thought that they would have a hard time guarding us, but we weren’t as sure about how well we would be able to defend them,” Seward said. “Dietz was outstanding defending their best player, and really she was just as good the night before defending Rutgers-Newark’s best player as well. But our entire team was really locked in and focused on the game plan, and that propelled us to the win.”
After back-and-forth baskets from both sides of the court, New Paltz went on a 5-0 run to end the first quarter with a seven point lead, 20-13.
Fourth-year guard Lindsay Bettke charged the basket on a fastbreak in the second quarter following a hard foul, and increased the Hawks lead to double-digits with a 3-pointer. She went all or nothing offensively and made all four of her 3-pointers in the quarter, giving New Paltz the cushion it needed by outscoring the Saints 28-10 in the second.
“I think I went into the second quarter and just came to the realization that this is possibly my last game on my home court,” Bettke said in a post-game press conference. “It just kind of clicked and I was like, I’m just going to give everything I have on the court.”
Fourth-year guard Taylor Howell ended the half with five unanswered points to extend the Hawks lead to 48-23.
The third quarter helped New Paltz transition to its defensive play, increasing their lead to 30 with a bucket by Bettke at 7:52 off an assist from Simon. The Hawks ended the quarter up 65-35.
The Hawks held onto their lead throughout the fourth quarter, and kept possession of the ball through shot-clock violations to finish the game ahead 31 points. The Saints attempted to decrease the lead, but ultimately ended the game by walking towards the bench with 10 seconds to go.
This win pushes the Hawks to the second round of championships, where they will face No. 2 nationally ranked Bowdoin College on March 8 at 7 p.m.
“It feels good, obviously [to win], but we are in no way satisfied or content either,” said Seward. “We want to go out and have a good practice today, and see how far we can take this thing.”