PROVIDENCE — No one ever said the road to postseason glory was easy. Just ask Mount St. Charles, which needed overtime to hold off Rogers, 59-52, Wednesday night in the Division II semifinals at Rhode Island College’s Murray Center. The Mounties dominated the extra session, holding the Vikings to just one field goal while hitting seven free throws.
The hard-fought victory earns head coach Nina Morey and her Mounties a date in Saturday’s title game at the Ryan Center on the campus of the University of Rhode Island. MSC’s opponent will be The Prout School, which eliminated Johnston by a 43-35 count in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
Mount received a special double treat last night, as senior Maria Saia notched her 1,000th career point on a free throw with 11 seconds left in the extra session. It was part of a two free throw sequence for the Mounties star that more importantly made it a two-possession game with time becoming a factor for the Vikings. Saia finished with 16 points and 19 rebounds, a performance that showed she was determined to extend the season one more game.
“She was incredible,” said Morey. “She had a tough game today but she kept plugging away. I can’t take her out of the game because she runs everything.”
The funny thing is that on the play the Mounties desperately needed to force overtime, Saia thought it would be best to serve as a decoy and let someone else take the shot. The plan worked as Saia, guarded heavily by Rogers’ Nifaty Morales, was able to clear enough space on the baseline to allow fellow captain Adriana Maurano to get a clean look. Maurano’s jumper splashed in with three seconds left to create a 48-all affair.
“She’s so unselfish and had no clue she was going for the 1,000 points,” said Morey about Saia. “The others came through, particularly in the end.”
Morales let fly a half-court heave as time expired that sailed right. It was onto extra basketball, which saw the teams trade leads before Saia put her foot down. She hit two freebies with 1:25 left to snap a 52-all score and helped kick-started a 7-0 run by MSC to close out the contest. The Mounties pulled ahead by four (56-52) when the Vikings turned the ball over right under their own basket, resulting in an easy hoop for Alyssa Rossi (six points).
Saia added three more free throws to wrap things up for the Mounties, who will be seeking their first championship since capturing the Division III crown in 2000-01.
Mount watched as Rogers stormed out a 13-4 lead as the Vikings’ three-guard attack contributed heavily to the fast start. Even more impressive was that all five of Rogers’ starters landed in the scoring column by the time the game was six minutes old. By the time Morey signaled for her second timeout at 8:56, the Mounties were behind 15-7 and shooting 2-of-14 and guilty of six turnovers.
The Vikings continued to enjoy the upper hand, going up as many as 13 (25-12) before the Mounties finally started to make some noise. Mount scored the final seven points of the opening half – all coming at the foul line – to slice Rogers’ halftime lead down to 26-21. Saia ended up attempting eight of her team's 13 free throws in the opening half as MSC finished the game 23-of-32 from the stripe.
Tia Cromwell, the Vikings’ bruising center, got on a roll early in the second half, scoring eight straight points to put her team up 41-35 at 9:22. MSC trailed 46-43 with just under three minutes remaining before making a push to force overtime. Nicole Grinsell banked in a shot to put the Mounties to within one before the senior forward tied the game at 46-all after hitting a free throw.
A steal by Morales led to two free throws by the junior, a sequence that put Rogers back in front with 1:01 remaining, 48-46. Mount’s first bid to tie came up short as Rossi missed a one-and-one bid with 37.6 ticks left. Rogers had a chance to cement its trip to the finals but Ny’Jah Rivon missed a short jumper. Morey called a timeout with 10.9 seconds remaining to draw up a play that would free up Maurano for the game-tying shot.
ROGERS (52): Sienna Benson 3 2-2 9, Nifaty Morales 4 6-12 14, Chanel Neal 4 0-0 8, Ny’Jah Rivon 1 0-0 2, Brianne Morgera 4 1-4 5, Tia Cromwell 6 2-3 14. Totals: 20 11-21 52.
MOUNT ST. CHARLES (59): Nicole Grinsell 3 1-2 7, Adriana Maurano 3 3-5 9, Taylor Messier 0 4-4 4, Paige LaBreche 2 2-2 4, Alyssa Rossi 3 0-1 6, Lauren Mallon 1 2-4 4, Maria Saia 4 8-12 16, Noreen Mulledy 1 2-2 5. Totals: 16 23-32 59.
Halftime: R 26-21.
End of Regulation: 48-48.
Three-point field goals: R 1 (Sienna Benson); MSC 1 (Noreen Mulledy).