The St. Thomas Aquinas College women's basketball team advanced to the Championship Game of the East Coast Conference Tournament with a 68-52 triumph over Roberts Wesleyan College at Voller Athletic Center in Rochester, NY. The Lady Spartans, now 25-4 overall and seeded #2 in the tournament, will square off with #4 NYIT for the conference title at 12:00 noon Sunday, after the Bears upset top-seeded LIU Post, 80-78. This will be the fourth ECC Tourney final for St. Thomas Aquinas and first since 2012, while Tech makes its fifth trip to the penultimate game and third in the past four seasons. Both teams are in search of their first conference championship.
Alex Bertolino exploded for a career-high 33 points as the Lady Spartans pulled away in the fourth quarter, overcoming 16 points each from CC James and Emily Wilson for the host Redhawks.
Taylor Bynoe gave the tournament hosts from Roberts Wesleyan an early 4-2 lead, but a Bertolino three-pointer helped STAC to a 9-8 edge after four minutes of play. Two more long-range shots from Bertolino keyed a 14-5 Lady Spartans run, leading to a 24-16 advantage after ten minutes. She added two more jumpers early in the second quarter and a Missy Sadler layup opened a 30-20 gap when STAC's offense suddenly stalled, going over five minutes without a point as the Redhawks tied the score at 30-30 on a Taya Andrews three with 1:22 left in the half.
Emily Preston snapped that skid to give the Lady Spartans a 32-30 edge at intermission, and STAC held that lead until a pair of James free throws put Roberts Wesleyan on top at 39-38 with 3:44 left in the third. With the Redhawks holding a 41-39 advantage, ECC Player of the Year Jenna Erickson drilled a three-pointer - her first points of the game - with 2:35 to go, and followed with a pair of free throws as the visitors held their foes without a field goal over the final 5:41 of the quarter, with STAC holding a 45-41 margin entering the final session.
Julia Winnick, who had struggled from the field, hit a pair of threes to spark the STAC attack, and with the Lady Spartans clinging to a 52-49 edge with 6:20 left, Bertolino stepped to the fore again with a pair of hoops and the defense did the rest in a decisive 14-0 run over the next 5:37 to pull away and punch their ticket to the finals.
St. Thomas Aquinas dominated the rebounding battle by a 50-29 count, with freshman Preston posting a career-high 19 caroms to lead the way. STAC also turned the ball over just nine times for the entire game, while forcing 15 from their opponents. STAC and NYIT will meet for the third time this season, with the Lady Spartans taking a 75-61 victory in Old Westbury on January 17, and followed that with an 80-62 win at Aquinas Hall on February 14.