IUP women knock off Cal (Pa.) to advance to Division II Elite Eight
As the chants of “IUP, IUP” grew louder, it was clear the Crimson Hawks had shaken the Cal (Pa.) jinx.
The Crimson Hawks used an 11-0 run from the end of the third quarter into the fourth to capture another NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional title with a 68-60 win at Glenville State’s Waco Arena.
“We knew coming in that we didn’t need to have an extraordinary effort to beat them,” IUP coach Tom McConnell said. “We knew we just had to come in here and be us and play IUP basketball.”
After two sub-par performances in a pair of earlier losses to the Vulcans, IUP’s Carolyn Appleby dropped a game-high 24 points to lead the way for the Crimson Hawks. Twenty of those points came in the second half.
“It’s just a great feeling to beat them and make it to the Elite 8,” said Appleby a Greensburg Central Catholic grad. “We played our hearts out, and we really came together and played great basketball.”
After the Vulcans (26-6) took a two-point lead on an Abbey Sporio basket in the lane, McConnell called timeout.
“(Appleby) was just on fumes,” McConnell said. “I called the timeout mainly to allow her to catch her breath. I told the girls we needed to pick her up. Then she just came out and did her thing.”
Appleby hit 1 of 2 from the free-throw line then made a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Crimson Hawks a 47-45 lead heading to the fourth.
But the quarter break didn’t break the momentum.
IUP scored the next seven points to build its lead to 54-45 with 6 minutes, 48 seconds remaining after a Lauren Wolosik pull-up jumper.
After DJ Hahn got the Vulcans on the board in the final quarter, Appleby made another 3 to make it 57-47.
The Vulcans picked up their defense and forced three key turnovers, turning them into six points to pull to within four, 57-53, with 4:12 to go.
Another perfectly timed time out helped IUP gather itself, and it was Appleby leading the charge.
She scored the next five points with a free throw and back-to-back pull-up jumpers to make it 62-53. Natalie Myers made it a 10-point lead with a free throw at the 2:12 mark to make the lead insurmountable for the Vulcans.
“Obviously, you get to this point in the season, and you’re disappointed with the loss. We played hard. We were gutsy,” Cal coach Jess Strom said. “I think when we look back at our season, we’ll see it as a success. I think we surpassed everyone’s expectations.”
IUP jumped out to a 22-15 lead at the end of a feverishly paced first quarter.
Sporio (8) and Barrett (7) combined for all 15 points for Cal.
In the second, the Crimson Hawks began to tire under Cal’s pressure as the Vulcans chipped away. A Bianca Jasper basket off a steal and a three-point play from Barrett cut the IUP lead to 32-31 with 2:05 to go in the first half.
Brittany Robinson, who was named the regional’s outstanding player, scored inside, and Appleby scored to make it 36-31 with 25 seconds to go.
Two free throws from Barrett with three seconds left put the Vulcans down 36-33 at the half.
“Brittany was really big for us in the first half,” McConnell said. “She played really well on the boards and did a lot of our scoring early.”
Robinson had 14 of her 16 points in the first 20 minutes.
Back after some foul trouble late in the second quarter, Sporio sparked the Vulcans coming out of the locker room.
She scored the first six points of the half for Cal and pulled it within 41-39 before Allen gave the Vulcans their first lead with consecutive baskets midway through the quarter.
Sporio tied Seairra Barrett with a team-high 19 points, taking advantage of her speed off the dribble.
“I knew they’d be playing off me, trying to force me to shoot from outside,” Sporio said. “But it didn’t matter. I knew I was quicker than them getting to the basket.”
Sporio led the team with nine rebounds. Barrett finished with eight.
“Coming into this season we had a bit of a sour taste in our mouth from last season,” Strom said. “These two seniors set the tone. Our kids woke up every day at 5:30 a.m. every single day from September on. I don’t think any other teams have players that would do that. And I don’t know two kids who practice harder.
“We’re really going to miss them.”
Both were voted on to the all-region team along with Appleby, Robinson and Glenville State’s Courtney Stoller.
“We knew we had to be disciplined and not foul. They were 34 of 46 against Glenville State,” McConnell said of the Vulcans. “And the last time we played them, they hit 10 3-pointers on us. Today they were 1 of 14.
“We did a great job of finding the open man with our dribble penetration and had a great inside presence.”
Lexi Griggs added 11 points for IUP.
The Crimson Hawks (29-3) advance to the Elite 8 in Columbus, Ohio. Their first game will be March 26 in a national quarterfinal against a team to be determined. The NCAA reseeds teams prior to play beginning.