The University of New England never trailed in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Women's Basketball Championship game on Saturday (Feb. 23), and the top-seeded Nor'easters finished off a 69-63 victory over No. 3 Salve Regina University in front of more than 550 fans at the Harold Alfond Forum.
Winners of 19 straight contests, the Nor'easters (24-4) earn the CCC's automatic bid into the field of 64 teams for the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship, which will begin on Friday (Mar. 1) at 16 sites around the country. Big Blue will learn its fate during Monday's 2:30 p.m. selection show that can be seen LIVE on NCAA.com.
It will be the third time in four seasons that UNE has garnered a spot in the NCAA field. The Nor'easters claimed the league title in 2010, and received an at-large selection in 2012. Big Blue now has three CCC Championships to its credit in women's basketball, with the first coming in 2001.
Sophomore Kelly Coleman (Portland, Conn.) led the Nor'easters scoring effort with 15 points. Senior Beth Suggs (Bath, Maine) notched her 16th double-double of the year with 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. First-years Sadie DiPierro (South Portland, Maine) and Alanna Vose (Cushing, Maine) each went for 13 points, combining to make 7-of-13 shots from the field, 3-of-5 treys, and 9-of-12 at the charity stripe.
Rookie Meghan Gribbin (Windham, Maine) chipped in with 10 points. Classmate Lauren Hayden (Chantilly, Va.) added seven points, seven rebounds, four steals, and three assists.
UNE out-scored Salve Regina by a 24-13 margin at the free throw line.
The Seahawks (17-11) were paced by senior Kaitlyn Birrell (Hope, R.I.), who tallied a game-high 16 points to go with nine assists and three steals. First-year Meaghan Harden (Sandwich, Mass.) totaled 14 points, while junior Marissa Pendergast (Medfield, Mass.) and sophomore Brianna Del Valle (Belchertown, Mass.) scored 11 apiece and grabbed nine and seven boards, respectively.
The Nor'easters jumped out to a quick 6-0 cushion, before a three-pointer by Birrell and a three-point play from Pendergast tied things up. It would be the only time all day that things were even on the scoreboard.
With UNE holding a 10-9 edge shortly after, Big Blue proceeded to use the ensuing 6-plus minutes to reel off 18 unanswered points and assume a 28-9 lead with 6:22 left in the opening half. DiPierro sparked the run with her first triple of the contest, and Vose contributed six of her 12 first-half points on the tail end of the surge.
Salve Regina managed to cut the deficit to eight (28-20, 31-23), but Vose dropped in the last six points of the frame to give the hosts a 39-23 advantage at the break. The Nor'easters shot 50 percent (15-for-30) in the period, as opposed to the 28.6 percent (8-for-28) conversion rate of the Seahawks.