The St. Thomas Aquinas College women's basketball team captured its first ever East Coast Conference Tournament Championship, defeating New York Institute of Technology, 53-40 in Rochester, NY. The Lady Spartans, seeded #2 in the tournament, have now won 11-of-12 games overall to improve to 26-4 and earn the program's first bid to the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Tournament since the 2003 season. NYIT, which upset top seeded LIU Post on Saturday, closed out the campaign with a 19-12 overall mark.
Coming off Saturday's 68-52 semi-final win over Roberts Wesleyan College, the Lady Spartans carried that defensive intensity into Sunday's championship game. After Corinn Baggs gave the Bears a 2-0 lead, Julia Winnick answered with a three-pointer and Adiya Henderson and Jenna Erickson followed with hoops as part of a 7-0 run. STAC held NYIT to just four points over the first eight minutes of play and closed the first quarter with a 17-7 advantage.
An Erickson trey opened a 30-17 advantage with 2:12 to play in the half, and Zaria Thomas converted a pair of late free throws to put St. Thomas Aquinas on top by a 34-19 margin at intermission. Neither team scored over the first four minutes of the third quarter, but Henderson and Erickson combined to get the Lady Spartans back on track as they stifled their foes to just five points over the 10-minute stretch, opening a 43-24 advantage. Adding an exclamation point, STAC held their opponents to just one point over the first 3:30 of the final session, removing any doubt as to the final outcome.
Erickson recorded 21 points and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, joining Alex Bertolino and Adiya Henderson with All-Tourney honors. Henderson scored 15 with a game-high 15 rebounds, with Emily Preston continuing her glass dominance by collecting 12 boards as STAC amassed an overwhelming 54-36 advantage in caroms.
STAC entered the weekend as the #4 ranked team in the East Region and will join Bentley College from the Northeast-10 and U of the Sciences from the CACC with automatic bids for tournament champions. The other five bids will be offered on an at-large basis, and locations and pairings will be announced by the NCAA later tonight.