Meadville Tribune

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March 28, 2014

No. 1 Bentley rallies to capture first DII title

ERIE — With just under six minutes to play, No. 1-ranked Bentley found itself in a precarious position, trailing 60-54 to West Texas A&M.

But in the span of just 30 seconds that all changed.

Thanks to a rapid series of interceptions by Bentley’s full-court defense, the Falcons of Waltham, Mass. went on a 6-0 run with 2:51 to play to tie the game at 60-60, and took the lead on a 3-pointer by Lauren Battista, on its way to a 73-65 win over West Texas A&M on Friday in the NCAA Division II women’s basketball championship game at Erie Insurance Arena.

The title is the first in program history for the Falcons, who finished the year at 35-0. And its the first for Bentley head coach Barbara Stevens, who is the winningest coach in Division II with 917 wins overall and 760 at the Falcons’ helm.

Yet neither she nor the Falcons had won a national title. In years past they had been bounced in the Final Four, the Elite Eight and, last year, in the round of 16.

The wait ended last night.

“We learned a very valuable lesson last year when we lost in the regional championship to Delta (State),” Battista said. “Nothing is going to be easy for us. Every team is out to beat us and out to knock us off out of the top spot. So we approached every game with that mentality this year and teams in our league challenged us just as we got challenged today by West Texas A&M.”

West Texas A&M, making its first championship appearance since 1988, wrapped up its season at 32-3.

West Texas was in control for the much of the game. The Lady Buffs established control with an outstanding night shooting. The Texans in fact, opened the game on fire shooting 71.4 percent from the floor through the first six minutes. Bentley, meanwhile, struggled, connecting on just one of its first nine shot attempts.

Bentley scored the game’s first basket, a jumper by Battista, but didn’t score another field goal until Battista found the hoop again with 12:16 to play in the half. West Texas A&M led 11-5 at that juncture.

Midway through the half, though, Bentley got its offense going and eventually took a 19-17 lead on a pair of free throws by Courtney Finn with 3:30 to play in the stanza. The Falcons extended that lead to four (21-17), but West Texas stormed back, tying it at 21-21 on a jumper by Lacee Logan.

Finn gave the Falcons the lead back with a 3-pointer, but Casey Land connected on the other end to tie it up at 24-24 at the break.

Game on.

The score was tied five more times in the second half before West Texas went on a run that put Bentley’s title hopes in jeopardy. That run was sparked by a magnificent second half effort by Devin Griffin. Griffin was just 2 of 7 with one rebound in the first half. She finished the game with a team-best 20 points on 9 of 18 shooting and eight rebounds. Point No. 17 for Griffin gave the Lady Buffs a 48-42 lead with 9:16 to play.

“Devin Griffin was unbelievable,” coach Stevens said. “She was killing us all by herself. She was taking over the game. When Jacqui (Brugliera) got in foul trouble we had to put Caleigh Crowell on her and Caleigh has length and Caleigh is also pretty strong. (Griffin) was outstanding. We were having all kinds of trouble with her.”

West Texas extended that lead to nine (58-49) with 5:38 to go on a 3-pointer by Madison McClain. McClain came into the game with just five points in the tournament. She knocked down three 3-pointers and finished with nine points against the Falcons.

Eventually, things turned in the Falcons’ favor and it began with the implementation of its pressure defense.

“My assistants were talking about us getting into it earlier,” Stevens said.

But with Crowell and Brugliera in foul trouble, Stevens hesitated. Down, with the clock ticking, she had no choice.

“With Lauren and Christiana (Bakolas) up front and Courtney sealing those traps off and Christiana kind of anticipating the reversal, thankfully Caleigh and Jacqui could stay behind and stay safe,” Stevens said. “That front line of our press was great.”

Bakolas keyed the comeback with back-to-back steals as West Texas tried to inbound the ball. Those steals led to four points within 17 seconds which knotted the score at 60 and sent the Falcons on their way to the national title.

Bentley won the title behind a sea of blue. It was reported that six buses made the long trip from Waltham, Mass. to Erie to witness the victory. Those fans were among a reported 2,151 in attendance for the championship game.

Finn led Bentley with 21 points. Brugliera, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, finished with 17 points, while Battista added 14.

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The latest proposed expansion plan for the Crawford County Courthouse potentially would eliminate the former Tarr Mansion on Diamond Park to make room for a county administrative building. Should the 1860 mansion be demolished?

Leave it alone because it’s historic.
Try to incorporate it into the proposed expansion.
It’s too far gone to save, but it’s memory may be preserved with an artifacts and photo display within the proposed courthouse complex.
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