The St. Thomas Aquinas College women's basketball team defeated Caldwell University, 61-45, in the quarter-finals of the East Regional at the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship in Easton, MA. The victory was the first in program history at the NCAA Tourney, and the #4 seed Lady Spartans (27-4) advance to meet host and top seed Stonehill College Saturday night in a 7:30 pm start.
STAC won the lone regular-season meeting of the squads in convincing 86-54 fashion on November 29 at Aquinas Hall, and the Lady Spartans carried that momentum into Friday's final quarter-final contest. Alex Bertolino and Emily Preston each converted three-point plays and Jenna Erickson added a three-pointer to open an 11-2 lead after just four minutes of play. Caldwell answered with the next seven points as Andie Lennon's trey closed the gap to 11-9, but STAC responded quickly with the next eight points before settling for a 19-14 edge through 10 minutes.
Caldwell narrowed the deficit to 23-21 on a Maura Kelty long-range hoop, but Bertolino and Erickson answered with consecutive threes to extend the margin again. Missy Sadler's late jumper sent St. Thomas Aquinas to intermission with a 37-30 lead, and the second-ranked defense in the nation took charge in the third quarter.
Adiya Henderson and Kristen Drogsler exchanged early hoops to make the score 39-32, but the Cougars would record just one more field goal over the last nine minutes of the third quarter, as Henderson staked STAC to a comfortable 48-34 advantageentering the final session. In all, the Lady Spartans suffocated Caldwell to the tune of allowing just six points over nearly the first 15 minutes of the second half, as the lead extended to 55-36 midway through the fourth, all but securing the victory.
Henderson tied for the game high with 18 points to go with 10 rebounds and Erickson added 11 points and five assists for the Lady Spartans, who have now won four straight and 12-of-13 overall. Drogsler paced the Cougars with 18 as the only player in double-figures, and STAC dominated the boards to the tune of 50-32. The Lady Spartans will face Stonehill (27-3) who advanced with a convincing 70-45 win over Southern Connecticut earlier in the evening. The other semi-final will see #2 Bentley meet #3 USciences, with tip for that game set for 5:00 pm. The winners will advance to Monday's East Region final, which begins at 7:00 pm, with the regional champ moving on to the NCAA Elite Eight.