|Taylor Choate made big plays at both ends of the court in Bowdoin's semifinal victory over St. Thomas.
Photo by Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com
Depth and defense was the difference in Friday night's national semifinal as No. 3 Bowdoin defeated No. 2 St. Thomas, 71-60.
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Maddie Hasson scored nine points down that clinching stretch and finished with a game-high 25 points to lead the Polar Bears (31-1) to their second straight national title game.
Abby Kelly added 21 points, Taylor Choate scored 14, and Moira Train added 11. That quartet made 25 of 41 field goal attempts, as Bowdoin knocked down 45.5% of its shots and made 17 of 23 free throws.
Hannah Spaulding started hot for the Tommies (30-2), scoring nine of St. Thomas’s 11 first quarter points. But the Polar Bears held her in check the rest of the way, sending double- and triple-teams at the Tommies’ senior star who finished with 17 points.
"She's always going to have her points. She's a phenomenal player," Bowdoin head coach Adrienne Shibles said of Spaulding in the postgame. "But I do think that our doubling and pressure [frustrated her]. I thought Maddie did a really great job."
Hasson keyed the late second quarter surge that gave the Polar Bears a 33-25 lead heading into the locker room. But the Tommies showed no quit. Despite trailing by double digits for most of the third quarter, a 7-0 run cut the deficit to just four points heading into the final frame.
The momentum stayed in purple and the Tommies scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to take their largest lead of the game, 54-49, with 7:21 to play. Kaia Porter’s layup with 6:18 to play put the Tommies ahead 56-51. St. Thomas would not make a field goal for the remainder of the game. Hasson scored five straight points to tie the game and then Train gave the Polar Bears the lead for good with a three-point play. Abby Kelly, who had been sitting with four fouls, returned to hit a three and and a jumper, pushing Bowdoin's lead to six points with less than two minutes left.
Porter finished with 11 and Lucia Renikoff scored 12 on 4 of 6 shooting from downtown for the Tommies.
Once the Polar Bears defense put the clamps on, the Tommies had no answer. The defense that allowed just 50 points per game this season did all it could to hold Bowdoin below its average, but it wasn’t enough. Spaulding ended her stellar career for the Tommies by fouling out in the closing seconds.
Bowdoin advances to face No. 1 Thomas More in the national championship game that will tip off at 7:30 pm ET. The Polar Bears fell in last year’s national championship to NESCAC foe Amherst, 65-45, then graduated national player of the year Kate Kerrigan.
"We've been working since we were [in the national championship game] last year," Kelly said of the team's return to the title game. "Everyday putting in the work, in the summer on our own, in September with conditioning and lifting, in the end with this being our goal."
The Polar Bears’ late surge puts them in position to avenge last year’s title game defeat and secure the team's first national championship in three tries.