BROOKLINE, Mass. - Nighthawks freshman Jaymesha Sanders (West Haven, Conn.) scored a team-high 18 points while grabbing 18 rebounds as the Newbury Nighthawks defeat the Elms Blazers 61-53 on Thursday evening in the New England Collegiate Conference semifinals. The win advances the Nighthawks to their first NECC Championship Game since 2015.
By virtue of a 75-50 win, the No. 3 seeded Becker Hawks have advanced to the Championship Game on Saturday.
Nighthawks junior Savannah Olsen (Battle Creek, Mich.) scored 11 points to go with 17 rebounds in a full 40 minutes. Junior Taylor Kelley (North Billerica, Mass.) added nine points while freshman Tatianna Occena (Spring Valley, N.Y.) and junior Kristen Connors (Wilmington, Mass.) each finished with seven points.
Blazers senior Mackenzie LaRochelle (Chicopee, Mass.) scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-20 shooting in 40 minutes. Sophomore Kayla Soto (New Britain, Conn.) scored 11 points in 22 minutes while freshman Angelica Peguero-Flores (Springfield, Mass.) filled the box score with six points, six rebounds, and five blocks.
It was an even battle with both teams struggling for offense in the opening 20 minutes, as the teams combined to shoot 17-of-69 and headed for the locker room tied at 23-23. Nighthawks senior Destiny Spears (Arnold, Md.) was limited to just seven minutes with foul trouble.
"I knew my team would pull through even with me on the bench," said Spears. "I was excited to watch the team pull through with me and (Occena) out of the game. The team really stepped up and took it home for us."
LaRochelle came out of the locker room, scoring the first five points of the quarter in a 1:25 span to give the Blazers a 28-23 lead. The Nighthawks responded with five points to tie the game at 28-28. The Blazers would take multiple five-point leads in the third quarter but the Nighthawks stayed within striking distance, never letting the Blazers pull away.
"Coach Marc (Taney's) always says, 'chip, chip, chip,'" said Spears. "Every single time we get down, we just chip away. Every play counts, every point counts, every defensive stop counts, just keep chipping away."
The Blazers took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter but the Nighthawks 14-4 run over 5:16 would give the Nighthawks a 55-47 lead. The Blazers could only pull to within seven in the final minutes as the Nighthawks battled to the 61-53 win.
"Our women just battle," said Head Coach Marc Taney. "We fight, we battle every possession. We are driven to play good basketball right now and they have a goal in mind. The leadership we have on this team, with the women that we have, took over in the second half. I think Savannah Olsen played one of the best overall games I've seen her play since I've been here going out there and playing 40 minutes and putting it all on the line."
The Nighthawks win moves them to 18-8 while the loss ends the Blazers season at 11-16.
The top-seeded Nighthawks will advance to host the third-seeded Becker Hawks on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. for NECC Championship and the automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.
"It's such a pleasure to coach this team," said Taney. "We know the road goes through Becker; we can't wait for Saturday."
In two meetings this season, the Nighthawks took home a pair of six-point wins over Becker. It will mark the second straight season these two teams meet in the playoffs, however, this season will be for the NECC Title.