Amherst goes back-to-back

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Amherst's starters enjoy a rare moment on the bench at the end of the Mammoths' 65-45 win over Bowdoin in the 2018 national championship game.
Photo by Cory Chuchna,

Amherst put the “defense” in title defense when the Mammoths shut out NESCAC rival Bowdoin over an 8-minute span in the second half and pulled away for its second straight NCAA Division III women’s basketball championship, 65-45.

The game started much like the teams’ first meeting, which ended in a 49-45 Amherst win, with each team denying the other open looks. The teams shot a combined 2-for-17 in the opening five minutes with the two baskets both coming Bowdoin’s Cordelia Stewart.  After the first media timeout, Amherst’s Emma McCarthy countered with eight straight points, using her lateral quickness to maneuver around the Bowdoin defenders in the post for open looks.

Bowdoin guard Kate Kerrigan stopped the Amherst run and a long scoring drought for the Polar Bears with a runner in the lane and then teammate Taylor Choate slashed to the rim to tie the game at eight to end the first quarter.

Lauren Petit opened the second quarter with a three for Bowdoin and Amherst responded with 12-2 run including deep threes from sophomores Cam Hendricks and Hannah Fox, driving the Polar Bears into a timeout down 20-13 with six minutes left in the first half.

Kerrigan again stopped the Amherst run with a jumper in the lane, and the Polar Bears started to take the ball to the rim and get to the foul line. Bowdoin went five for six from the foul line with Abby Kelly making three of them, cutting the Mammoths’ lead to 26-23 at the half.

Amherst shot 48 percent in the first half while Bowdoin won the rebounding battle, 20-15, but only shot 29 percent from the field. Bowdoin showed its depth by using nine players in the first half, as opposed to Amherst which stuck with its starters until three minutes to play in the half when it made two substitutions.

Bowdoin scored the first three points of the second half on a free throw and layup from Choate to quickly tie the game at 26. Bowdoin continued to attack the rim and forced Hendricks, who usually defends the top scorer for the other team, into her third foul with 6:41 to play in the third quarter. Hendricks remained in the game and did not pick up another foul the rest of the way.

Neither team could gain an advantage early in the third quarter as Bowdoin continued to score from the foul line and Amherst got timely baskets from McCarthy and a three from Fox off a deflected offensive rebound. Amherst used trips to the foul line to open up a 42-36 lead at the end of the third period. McCarthy and Fox combined for 12 of Amherst’s 16 points in the third quarter.

Fox opened the scoring in the fourth quarter with a highlight-reel play, grabbing an offensive rebound with two hands off her own missed shot and flipping it over the rim without touching the ground. Amherst continued to open the lead as Emma McCarthy powered inside for a three-point play, making the score 47-36

Meanwhile Bowdoin struggled to find open looks against the Amherst defense that blanketed players inside, strangling the passing lanes and leaving the Polar Bears with only off balance shots. Desperately needing a basket, Bowdoin’s Abby Kelly drained a three from the right wing that got waived off because of a three-second violation. On the Mammoths next possession, Amherst fed McCarthy who scored again from point-blank range, taking the lead to 49-36 with eight minutes to play.

Bowdoin called timeout to regroup but its next possession ended with Amherst’s Hannah Hackley rejecting a shot and Amherst countered with another McCarthy score off the glass. Bowdoin started to press and take chances in its half-court defense, desperate to stop the Mammoths’ run. Amherst calmly converted open layups and turned any missed free throws into extra possessions with offensive rebounds.

Lydia Caputi finally ended Bowdoin’s eight-minute scoring drought with a three with three minutes to play. It was the Polar Bears’ first field goal since three minutes to play in the third quarter and Amherst till maintained a 59-39 lead. Amherst emptied the bench a few minutes later, making its first substitutions of the second half, and the reserves played the final minutes in Amherst’s 66th consecutive victory.

Emma McCarthy scored 25 points on a bevy of post moves, including this shot over the Bowdoin defense.
Photo by Cory Chuchna,

Overall Amherst held Bowdoin to 27 percent shooting (15-for-55) and outrebounded the Polar Bears, 45-30.

Emma McCarthy led the Mammoths with 25 points and 12 rebounds, securing the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Fox added 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Box score

“She wanted the ball. That was a big help,” Amherst head coach G.P. Gromacki said of McCarthy after the game. “She’s not one to shy from any type of challenge and she made the plays time after time.”

“This game encompassed what [Emma] has done for us all season, whether it be through leadership, helping everyone out,” said Hannah Fox. “She knows all of our plays, all of our opponents’ plays like the back of her hand.”

Lauren Petit led Bowdoin (29-3) with 12 points, including three 3-pointers.

Joining McCarthy on the All-Tournament team were Fox, Kerrigan, Madison Temple of Thomas More and Katie Sommer of Wartburg.

Amherst (33-0) completed its second straight perfect season and extended its winning streak to 66. The Division III record is 81 straight victories by Washington U. from February 1998 to January 2001.

“It’s an incredible feeling. I’m so proud of our team and the way they handled themselves all weekend,” said Gromacki who was named the National Coach of the Year. “To be in front of you right now, with a national championship, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”

Amherst earned its third national championship, moving the Mammoths past Capital, DePauw, Hope and UW-Stevens Point and alone into second place all-time behind Washington U., which won four straight titles from 1998 – 2001 and has five overall.