St. Vincent captures title
Emily Fenton had played in her share of big games both at Latrobe and St. Vincent, but she had never been in such a stressful situation with so much at stake.
Facing Juniata in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship, St. Vincent was in a tie game with 5.8 seconds remaining in regulation when Fenton was fouled in the frontcourt and went to the line to shoot a 1-and-1.
"I'm not going to lie, my heart was pounding," Fenton said. "But my teammates were there, confident in me and that made me fell a lot better under the pressure."
And Fenton responded as she drained both -- even hitting the second after Juniata called timeout in an attempt to ice her -- to give St. Vincent (22-5) a 60-58 victory over the Lady Golden Eagles and the first postseason title for the Lady Bearcats since wining the American Mideast Conference tournament in 2003.
"They called timeout, but in the huddle coach (Kristen Zawacki) said that she believed in me and said I was going to make it, which made me feel so much better," Fenton said. "I just went up there with confidence."
It was a much different game than the first two -- against Pitt-Greensburg and Alvernia -- in which St. Vincent had to erase huge deficits with strong second-half comebacks. This time, thanks to junior Maria Baroffio scoring 16 of her 18 points in the first half, the Lady Bearcats jumped out to a 19-8 lead and held a 28-24 edge at the intermission.
"In the second half we decided to go box-and-one on (Baroffio) because she was killing us, so I decided to change things up and make other people step up," Juniata coach Danny Young-Urich said. "I knew that (Brittany Sedlock) was a concern because she's got a lot of heart and that coach has something special with her."
Sedlock was named the tournament Most Valuable Player and sparked St. Vincent in the second half. The sophomore forward scored six consecutive points in the early minutes after intermission and finished the game with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
"Maria had a really nice first half, so it was likely that they would try to come out and stop her, so there were more openings because they were paying more attention to her," Sedlock said. "I felt responsible to step it up for my team, score some baskets and hit my teammates for some open shots."
Still, though the championship is a nice accomplishment for St. Vincent, the real test will be how the team uses this as carryover to next season when it is playoff-eligible for the first time in the Division III Presidents' Athletic Conference. Though St. Vincent came into the tournament as the No. 2 seed, the Lady Bearcats' coaching staff was looking to use this postseason as a competitive teaching tool and as a barometer for the team's progress.
And it appears the players passed.
"I think they learned to play in big games, which we're going to be in a lot of in the conference," Zawacki said. "I wanted them to learn what the postseason is all about, whether you're at home or on the road, and I wanted them to feel the pressure and respond to it, and I thought they did that in an exceptional manner."