BROOKLINE, Mass. - The third-seeded Newbury College Nighthawks defeated the sixth-seeded Mitchell College Mariners, 89-59, in the first round of the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Championship on Tuesday night.
The dynamic defensive duo of Catherine O'Connell and Katie Haney paved the road to the NECC semifinals for the Nighthawks.
Mitchell jumped out in front early and forced Newbury to play catch-up. Freshman Hannah Smith was red-hot from the outside in the first half, draining 12 of her team-high 18 points from beyond the arc. Midway through the half, Smith knocked down a jumper to give the Mariners their largest lead of the game, but the Nighthawks were resilient and battled their way back.
Nephie Marsh picked the pocket of Smith with under eight minutes to play in the half and took it back down court for the fast-break lay-up, giving Newbury its first lead, 24-23, since 53 seconds into the game. However, the lead did not last for very long. The Mariners went back ahead nearly a minute later, taking advantage of a Nighthawk miscue. Freshman Sheanna James connected with Smith for a jumper at 6:32 to put Mitchell back on top by one at 25-24.
Down by one, Haney stepped up her game, snagging an offensive board away from the waiting hands of defenders and laying it back up for the put-back and foul. She then knocked down her free throw to complete the traditional three-point play and put the Nighthawks up by two.
Mitchell didn't go away quietly and later cut a seven-point deficit down to a manageable two. Freshman Zilka Navarro made a lay-up but failed to convert the three-point play after getting fouled by Newbury's Morganna Machado.
On Mitchell's next possession, senior Bianca Young connected with Smith for her fourth trey of the half to cut the deficit to two. However, Machado atoned for her foul, knocking down a jumper with 18 seconds remaining in the half to send Newbury into halftime with a 36-32 lead.
When the teams emerged from the locker room, the Nighthawks opened the second half with an 11-1 run and never looked back. After Navarro broke up the run by netting a lay-up five minutes into the period, O'Connell slammed the door on the Mariners with an emphatic block on a Navarro lay-up attempt 19 seconds later.
Throughout the entire first half, Mitchell contained the Nighthawks' leading scorer and the nation's leading rebounder, but the second half was a different story. O'Connell went off in the second as she registered her 20th double-double of the season, netting 14 points while pulling down 18 boards. Haney led six Nighthawks in double figures with a game-high20 points.
Smith led Mitchell with 18 points while Navarro followed up with 15 points of her own. James rounded out the trio of Mariners in double digits, recording a double-double with 11 points and 12 boards.
The victory sends Newbury to the NECC semifinals where it will meet second-seeded Elms College on Friday, February 24 at 8:00 p.m. in Weston, Mass.
Mitchell ends the season with an overall record of 8-17.