YORK, PA – The York College women's basketball team is returning to the Capital Athletic Conference tournament championship game after a 73-65 semifinal win over a pesky Marymount University Saint squad on Thursday night at Charles Wolf Gymnasium.
The Spartans, who are the tournament's top seed, will host second-seeded Christopher Newport in the championship game. The Captains survived a thrilling semifinal against third-seeded Salisbury, 73-72. The Gulls had a chance to win the game at the buzzer but it did not fall, setting the stage for the top two teams in the league to meet for the title and the automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
The two teams went back and forth in the opening ten minutes of the game before the Spartans embarked on an 18-2 run, giving York a 26-11 lead.
The Saints worked the Spartan lead down to 11 at 33-22, but York scored 10 of the next 13 points of the game to push their advantage to a game-high 18. However, the Saints weren't going away as they scored the final five points of the half to cut their halftime deficit to 13 at 43-30.
The Green and White maintained their lead in double figures in the early stages of the second half. However, every time York tried to pull away, the Saints would answer and reel the Spartans back in.
York pushed their lead to a second half high of 15 at 54-39 at the 12:06 mark. Marymount went on an 11-4 run capped with an Aliya Roseborough triple with 6:51 left in the game. The Spartans pushed the lead back to 11 on a Kristen Haley (Silver Spring, Md./Georgetown Visitation) free throw followed by a Haley basket a minute and a half later.
The Saints would not go away as they cut the Spartan lead to eight with 52 seconds left but the Spartans made enough plays including going a blistering 10-for-10 from the free throw line inside the last two minutes of the game to claim their fifth CAC championship game appearance.
The Spartans were led by the dynamic post presences of Haley and Brittany Hicks (Dover, Pa./York Catholic). Haley poured in a game-high 19 points while she also had seven rebounds and three blocked shots. The three blocks all came late in the second half and prevented the Saints from getting any closer than eight points in the second half. Haley was 8-for-14 from the floor and 3-for-4 from the line. Hicks gave another All-American performance, demonstrating why she is one of the best players in the conference. Hicks recorded her 40th career double-double with 18 points and a game-high 12 points in her 35 minutes of action. Hicks was 4-for-9 from the floor and 10-for-14 from the free throw line. Hicks hit her last four free throws in the final minute of the game.
The duo also reached an impressive milestone on Thursday as Haley and Hicks both eclipsed the 1,500-career point mark. Hicks now has 1,512 career points while Haley is sitting at 1,506.
Spartan head coach marvels at having two prolific scorers to turn to in the post.
"It's incredible to have two players in the same class score over 1,500 career points," said Witman. "Years ago, we used to be very guard oriented but to have two post players who have had the careers they have had, its just phenomenal."
Freshman Sam Hruz (White Marsh, Md./Mercy) was huge in the first half as the forward poured in 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting including 3-for-3 from three. Also playing well off the bench was Shea Wassel (North Wales, Pa./Lansdale Catholic) as she relieved Haley in the opening 20 minutes and had four points and two rebounds in a key eight minutes of action.
Senior Kelsey Murphy (Olney, Md./Good Counsel) was fantastic on the defensive end of the floor while she also chipped in eight points, two rebounds, three assists, and a blocked shot. More importantly for York, she harassed the Saints' top player Kaitlyn Fischer into 0-for-5 shooting from the floor in the opening half. In Fischer's last two appearances in York, Murphy held her to 0 points in the two first halves combined as Fischer went 0-for-6 from the field. Fischer went 13-for-30 (43.3%) from the field and 4-for-14 (28.5%) from three against York in three games this year, all York wins.
"I thought Kelsey Murphy did a great job on Fischer, especially in the first half," said Witman. "To hold her scoreless in the first half was a big reason we were up by 13 at the half."
Senior point guard Aja Wallpher (Ellicott City, Md./Seton Keough) added a game-high seven assists, eight rebounds, seven points and three steals in her typical all-around performance.
Aileen Maknati led the Saints in scoring as she tallied 15 points in 5-of-18 shooting including 3-of-6 from three while she also went 2-for-2 from the stripe. Fischer closed out her fantastic Marymount career with 13 points, five assists, two rebounds, and three steals in 39 minutes of action. She was 4-for-13 from the floor and 5-for-5 from three as all her points came in the second half. Daja Belt played well for the Saints as the freshman came off the bench to record 13 points including a trio of threes and 4-for-6 at the free throw line.
Witman knew it wasn't going to be easy for the Spartans.
"I thought we fought hard the entire game," said Witman. "We knew Marymount wasn't going away, they are a very good team. We did a great job of finishing off the game at the free throw line down the stretch. "
The Spartans finished the game shooting 50% (22-for-55) from the floor. The Green and White went 7-for-13 (53.8%) from three. It is the fourth time this year the Spartans shot 50% or better from the floor and also from three. York was rocky from the free throw line early as they were 12-for-19 before the final two minutes when the Spartans were clutch with the ten straight makes. York finished at 75.9% for the game from the stripe.
Marymount shot 33.9% from the floor including 8-for-21 (38.1%) from three. After shooting 50% from three in the first half, the Saints struggled in the second half going just 3-for-11 from distance.
For the first time in three meetings the year, the Spartans finally outrebounded the Saints, 38-30. York outscored their guests 26-16 in the paint and had an 11-6 edge in second chance points.
The Saints forced York into an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers as Marymount scored 24 points off Spartan turnovers.
The Spartans improve to 24-2 overall while the Saints conclude their campaign at 17-10. The Spartans' senior class finishes their career with a 9-1 mark against Marymount in their ten meetings including 2-0 in the CAC Tournament.
The championship game gives the Spartans an opportunity to avenge one of their two losses on the season as CNU knocked the Spartans from the ranks of the unbeaten, 67-64 in overtime at CNU, on February 1. The Captains enter their first ever CAC Championship game with a mark of 22-4 after the win over Salisbury.
Tip time at Charles Wolf Gymnasium will be at 2:00 pm on Saturday afternoon.