WALTHAM, Mass. – Junior forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg/Wachusett Reg. HS) scored 16 of her season-high 22 points in the second half and senior guard Chrystal Guarin (Aliso Viejo, Calif./Troy HS) came off the bench to provide a late spark, scoring a career-best eight points, as two-time defending champion Bentley University earned a 24th trip to the Northeast-10 Conference Women's Basketball Championship Game with a 74-55 win over Franklin Pierce University Thursday night at the Dana Center.
Bentley, 27-1 overall and ranked third nationally in Division II, will host Assumption College in Sunday's title game as it seeks its 17th playoff championship in 32 years. The third-seeded Greyhounds closed with a 12-0 run to dispatch tenth-seeded Merrimack, 74-64.
The Falcons, who trailed by as many as nine in the first half, owned a slim three-point lead, 48-45, midway through the second when it ran off ten unanswered, the 29th time this season coach Barbara Stevens' team has had a run of that length or longer. That grew into a 15-3, a 20-6 and a game-ending 26-9 burst as the Bentley D limited the visitors to just three triples over the final 9:55.
Two point guards, junior starter Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) and Guarin, played key roles in that decisive surge.
Bakolas took the ball to the basket for a lay-up, ending a two-and-a-half minute dry spell for the Falcons that had seen Franklin Pierce cut the differential from eight to five. She came down with a defensive rebound at the other end and fed senior guard Kelsey Roberson (Arlington/Arlington Catholic HS) for a three off the fast break and an eight-point lead.
With Bakolas needing a blow, Stevens called upon Guarin for the first time in the game and the Californian delivered. Her lay-up with 6:53 made it a ten-point game and her three-ball from the left wing extended the lead to 13, 58-45, with 6:53 to play.
Following a Raven three, a lay-up from junior forward Tyler Parker Kimball (New Britain, Conn./ New Britain HS) and a second-chance three by Roberson made it a 63-48 game with 5:37 left.
After FPU connected again from downtown, Guarin matched it, this time hitting from the right wing, and Brugliera followed with a lay-up. That produced it a commanding 17-point margin, 68-51, with the clock down to four and change.
Brugliera scored the game's opening basket off an inbound pass from Bakolas, but that would be Bentley's only lead until the opening minute of the second half when those two once again teamed up on an inbounds play.
Turnovers and poor rebounding hurt the Falcons early with Franklin Pierce opening a 22-13 lead with 6:48 left on the first-half clock. Freshman forward Kelly Charette (Fairhaven) was a factor early for the Ravens with nine of the 22.
Bentley came alive over the final four-and-a-half minutes of the half, closing with an 11-3 run to draw even at the break, 27 apiece. Junior All-America Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS) helped lead the comeback, scoring five of the 11, including a driving lay-up with 1:03 left to close out the first-half scoring.
The Falcons used a 12-2 run early in the second, with five different players contributing points, to open a 44-34 lead. Franklin Pierce answered back, with senior guard Tiffany Johnson (St. Albans, Vt.) scoring the last five of an 11-4 spurt that reduced the Bentley lead to three.
Brugliera made seven of 13 shots overall, including a three, and was seven of eight at the line, nearly matching Franklin Pierce's total as a team (8-9 free throws). Battista was the only other Falcon to score in doubles, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Finn came within a point and a rebound of a double-double, and Guarin, who never exited the game once she got the chance, made three of four shots, including both of her attempts from outside. She also contributed three rebounds and one assist, and she didn't commit a turnover.
Charette led four double-figure scorers for Franklin Pierce with 14 points, and she also had two blocks and six rebounds. The loss dropped her club, the seventh-seeded team in the East Region, to 18-10, and they'll be on the bubble for an NCAA at-large bid, with the field to be announced Sunday night.
Bentley shot 57 percent in the second half and outshot the Ravens 44-33 percent overall. Both teams made nine threes, although the Falcons did it in only 17 attempts, seven fewer than FPU, and the Falcons were 11 of 16 at the line. Points in the paint favored the home team by a wide margin, 32-14.
Bentley and Assumption met only once during the regular season with the Falcons winning out in Worcester, 71-61, back on Jan. 9.