WALTHAM, Mass. – For the fourth straight year, the eighth time in the last nine seasons and the 29th time in the tournament's 38-year history, the Northeast-10 Conference Women's Basketball championship game will include the Bentley University Falcons.
Coach Barbara Stevens' Falcons, the top seed in the NE10's Northeast Division, advanced with a 74-59 victory over Northeast number three seed Saint Anselm College Thursday on the Dana Center court named after the 1,039-game winner. They'll now travel to Syracuse, N.Y. to face Southwest Division champ Le Moyne College in a 1 pm contest Sunday afternoon.
Bentley, 28-2 and riding a 15-game winning streak, was powered by junior forward Monica Viapiano (Holden/Holy Name HS), who came off the bench and used a bevy of low-post moves to score a career-high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
Eight of Viapiano's points came during a 14-3 second-quarter burst that erased a Saint Anselm 17-14 lead and put the 12th-ranked team in Division II up 28-20. Senior guard Amy McConnell (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor HS) got it going with a game-tying three from the right side. Viapiano, who had four in an opening quarter that ended with the Hawks in front 15-14, twice gave Bentley the lead with inside baskets, 19-17 and 21-20.
The run continued with two more lay-ups by Viapiano, with a three from junior guard Maddy Springfield (Jaffrey, N.H./Conant HS) sandwiched in between.
Up five at the half, Bentley opened the third with a 17-7 run that made it a 45-30 game with 5:38 left in the stanza. Springfield had five as she scored from both downtown and inside, and Viapiano knocked down four free throws.
An 11-point game after three, four different Falcons scored as Bentley opened the final quarter by netting eight of the first 11 to go up 16, 60-44. Viapiano scored another inside basket, senior guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England) sank a baseline jumper and both McConnell and junior guard Katie Meriggioli (Waunakee, Wis./Edgewood HS) had driving lay-ups.
After Saint Anselm (19-9) closed within 11 with 2:16 to play, the defending champions locked up their 29th trip to the finals with seven unanswered, including three points by Springfield.
Viapiano, who scored her 22 in 19:11 of playing time, was followed in the scoring column by Springfield with 13, along with five rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. McConnell had 12 points and Lux finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Saint Anselm was led by sophomore Peyton Steinman (Pittsfield), with 19 points, and junior center Shannon Ryan (Plattsburgh, N.Y.) with 13, along with seven rebounds. The six-four Ryan, who came in averaging 19 points and 12.5 boards, was only 4-of-11 from the floor.
Bentley dominated the NE10's top rebounding team on the boards, 43-29, and held the Hawks to 36 percent shooting, including 4 of 16 from downtown. The Falcons, on the other hand, shot 46 percent, including 58 percent in the second half, and made 17 of 23 free throws, matching Saint Anselm's total at the line in 28 attempts.
Due largely to Viapiano's efforts, points in the paint (38-22) and off the bench (29-10) largely favored Stevens' team.
Bentley and Le Moyne met once during the regular season with the Dolphins exiting the Dana Center with a 58-40 win back on Jan. 9. They overcame an 11-point first half and shut down New Haven for a 42-28 victory in the other semifinal Thursday.