By DIAMOND HOLTON
Salisbury University women’s basketball team is the headed to the Sweet 16 of the Division III NCAA Tournament after defeating Stockton University, 61-54, in the second round of the tournament at Maggs Physical Activity Center on Saturday.
The comeback kids – as Head Coach Kelly Lewandowski calls her team – needed to live up to that name as they trailed by five points at the start of the second half. After taking the lead with 13-4 run, the Sea Gulls (27-2) managed to go on a 15-0 run to extend their lead to 18 points and held the Stockton Ospreys (22-7) to just 19 points in the second half.
But the key of the game wasn’t the scoring efforts of Anna Hackett, or the rebounding expertise of Kathy Albornoz or Julia McLaughlin – it was the defensive effort of the Sea Gulls as a whole, forcing the Ospreys to commit 29 turnovers.
“We were more aggressive in the first half than we were last night. We had a really great second half,” Lewandowski said. “Defense in the second half was excellent and we caused them to have 29 turnovers and that really fueled our offense.”
Salisbury’s defense showed itself against Stockton as the team combined for 20 steals – seven of those came from senior guard Sarah Seipp. Despite her cold start in the first half – just one-for-eight shooting from the floor – Seipp added her steals plus four assists and a block to give the offense a sure advantage.
The Sea Gulls attacked early going on a 9-0 run and out-rebounded the Ospreys 14-6 in the first half. Their 20 offensive boards helped them to secure 15 second chance points and they continued to benefit from the Ospreys’ mistakes, scoring 24 points off of turnovers.
Hackett paved the way for a Sea Gulls’ win with 21 points, three assists and three steals. She felt she could take advantage of the Ospreys and put her teammates in position to score.
“The defense definitely fueled our offense and that’s how we like to play ideally. Everyone was getting open looks,” Hackett said. “We were all just getting fast break lay-ups. And that just makes it a lot easier to score.”
Salisbury – despite only having two players score in double digits with Hackett 21 and Lauren Rothfeld’s 12 points – worked together as a team to get the job done.
“Anna and Sarah are going to be the focus for other team’s defense, so they’re going to try and take them out,” Lewandowski said. “The good thing is we have people like Lauren, Kathy, Melanie (Mocniak) and Julia who have stepped up at different times.”
Stockton had three seniors in double figures: Lauren Alwan with 17, Sarah Farrell with 14, and Alex Nardoza with 10 points. Freshman forward Sasha Williams didn’t score much, but secured 14 rebounds while blocking seven shots.
“We certainly are very proud of how (Williams) played,” Ospreys’ head coach Joe Fussner said. “She’s going to be a person that you’re going to have to deal with inside.”
This victory advances the Sea Gulls to the NCAA sectional semifinals against No. 12 Amherst College who defeated New York University earlier on Saturday. The date for the matchup is set for Friday, March 13. Time and location will be announced in the coming week.