The St. Thomas Aquinas College women's basketball team clinched a return to the East Coast Conference Tournament with a 61-46 triumph over Daemen College at Aquinas Hall. The Lady Spartans improved to 17-9 overall and 11-5 in the ECC, and moved into second place in the conference standings, one-half game ahead of Molloy College. If STAC wins its final two games and Molloy loses one of its last three, the Lady Spartans would earn a first-round by to the ECC Tournament semi-finals. Daemen dropped to 10-13, 7-8, and the Wildcats are tied for the sixth and final tourney slot with LIU Post.
With Lauren Melville, Kaitlyn McCue, and Sam Burden celebrating Senior Night, it was only fitting that defense set the tone early, with Melville contributing a pair of blocks as St. Thomas Aquinas jumped to a 9-0 lead, holding Daemen off the board for nearly six minutes.
After seeing their lead extended to 19-7 early in the second quarter, the hosts saw Daemen turn the tables, as a tough zone frustrated STAC's perimeter shooting, allowing the Wildcats to draw within 24-22 at the half.
Leah McDonnell scored the first four points of the third quarter, giving the visitors their only lead of the night at 26-24, but McCue scored six as part of an 8-0 run, putting the Lady Spartans ahead at 32-26. In all, STAC closed the quarter with an 18-3 run, creating a 42-29 gap entering the final session.
Daemen drew the margin into single-digits at 49-41 on a Sarah Saba three with 5:20 left, but the Lady Spartans yielded just three points over the ensuing five minutes, with Alex Bertolino banking home a three and Melville scoring her team's final bucket of the evening to seal the win.
Bertolino led the Lady Spartans with 13 points while McCue scored 12 to go with a game-high 12 rebounds. McDonnell led all scorers for Daemen with 15 points, as her team was outrebounded by a 45-32 margin.
The Lady Spartans' final two regular season games are ECC affairs, as STAC travels to Bridgeport for a 1:00 pm start on Saturday, February 18. They will then wrap up against Mercy at Westchester Community College on Wednesday, February 22, at which time they will await word on their seeding and opponent for the conference tourney, which begins at high seeds on Wednesday, March 1, before proceeding to the semis and finals on Saturday and Sunday, March 4 and 5 at the University of Bridgeport.