SALEM, VA. - The ninth-ranked University of Scranton women's basketball team fought hard all night long, but in the end, came up just short, as top-ranked Thomas More rallied in the fourth quarter to take a 69-56 victory over the Lady Royals in the 2019 NCAA Division III National Semifinals on Friday night in the Cregger Center on the campus of Roanoke College.
Despite dropping the tough game to end their 2018-19 season, the Lady Royals accomplished so, so much over the last four and a half months.
Finishing with a record of 29-3, Scranton ended the season winners of 10 of their last 11 games after opening the year with an 18-0 mark and rising to as high as third in the national polls. The team also reached the National Semifinals for the first time since 2006 this year and the ninth time in team history
With the win, Thomas More remained unbeaten at 32-0 and will play for the Division III National Championship tomorrow against Bowdoin, who were victors in the first National Semifinal by a score of 71-60 over St. Thomas.
All night, the contest was seemingly a game of runs, with both Scranton and Thomas More taking huge shots at each other for four quarters.
To open the game, Thomas More started hot, taking a 15-6 lead on the Lady Royals with 4:13 to go in the period. But, Scranton punched back, exploding on an 11-2 run to take their first lead of the night when junior Taylor Rodriguez (Wayne, N.J./Wayne Hills) capped off the spurt by nailing a three with 43 seconds left to give Scranton their first lead of the night at 19-17.
Although Thomas More hit a shot to end the quarter, Scranton ended the period on an 11-4 run, as the game was tied up at 19-19 entering the second. In the second frame, Thomas More once again began a quarter hot, as they opened a 31-21 lead with four minutes left in the first half after holding Scranton to just two points over six minutes.
Up 11 late in the quarter (37-26), the Lady Royals ended the half with a little bit of momentum, as junior Makenzie Mason (Doylestown, Pa./Central Bucks West) ended the first half nailing a shot with two seconds left to make it a 37-28 game and lead for Thomas More entering the second half.
Out of the locker room after intermission, Scranton came out firing on all cylinders to open the second half on both the offensive and defensive ends.
After being outscored, 18-9, in the second quarter, Scranton scored the 10 of the first 11 points of the second half to all of a sudden tie the game up at 38-38 with 5:15 to go in the third quarter after another made jumper by Mason. Meanwhile, on the defensive end, Scranton forced Thomas more to miss 10 straight shots to open the second half.
After the Saints missed their 11th straight shot from the field, Scranton took their first lead since the end of the first quarter after freshman Hannah Kowalski (Clarks Summit, Pa./Abington Heights) nailed a pair of free throws to make it a 40-38 Lady Royal lead. After the 12th straight miss from Thomas More, Mason nailed another shot, giving Scranton their biggest lead of the night at 42-38 with 3:08 to go in the third quarter.
But, Thomas More ended the third quarter strong, as a 7-0 spurt gave the Saints the lead back at 45-42 entering the final frame. In the decisive fourth quarter, it was, unfortunately, Scranton who went cold from the field, as Thomas More went on a 9-0 run to open a 54-44 lead with 6:39 left in regulation.
Once Thomas More went up double-figures again, Scranton was unable to get back in it, as the Saints took an insurmountable 59-45 lead with 5:58 left. From there, the Saints salted the game away, as the Lady Royals went 3-of-14 from the floor in the fourth quarter, while being outscored, 24-14, to drop the game by 14 points.
Overall, Mason ended her incredible junior season with an 18 point, seven rebound performance. Mason, who was the Landmark Conference's Player of the Year and the D3hoops.com Mid-Atlantic Region Player of the Year, ends the 2018-19 campaign scoring in double-figures in 26 games total for the year.
Elsewhere, junior Emily Sheehan (Dunmore, Pa./Dunmore) and senior Bridgette Mann (Canadensis, Pa./Wallenpaupack) finished with 10 points, apiece, for Scranton to round out the double-digit scorers on the night.
For Mann, the loss concludes on the greatest careers in program history, as the guard led the Lady Royals to 115 victories in her four years in the program. Since Mann stepped foot on the Scranton campus in 2015, Scranton has won 4 Landmark Conference titles, advanced to Elite Eight once, the Sweet 16 twice, and tonight played in the Final Four for the first time in 13 years.
Mann also ends her career scoring 1,459 total points (seventh all-time in program history) and as the program's all-time leader in made three's with 235, becoming the first Lady Royal to make at least 200 three's in her career at Scranton.
Thomas More was led in the win by senior Madison Temple, who finished with 20 points. Held in check for most of the game by a tenuous Scranton defense, Temple (who was named the WBCA's Division III National Player of the Year on Thursday) scored 14 points alone in the decisive fourth quarter.