MONTCLAIR, N.J. – History was made Friday night for the No. 11 Salisbury University women's basketball team, reaching a new feat through 90 years of the program. Downing No. 12 Amherst College on the campus of Montclair State University, 63-58, the Sea Gulls have now made it the farthest in program history by making a trip to the Elite Eight. The road to Grand Rapids, Michigan is now just one win away.
"It's a great feeling, but it's an even greater feeling going to the Elite Eight," senior Anna Hackett said. "It's amazing!
"It's just really nice to leave a mark like this in program history. Obviously, this is something we have always been striving for, and making it to the NCAA tournament for the first time, it's just really cool to make it this far."
Through the first half, it was Salisbury that controlled the tempo. Although the Lord Jeffs held a 5-2 lead in the opening two minutes, the Gulls ignited a 12-point run through the next five minutes to push a 14-5 advantage. Hackett paced the run with six of the 12 points to begin a great night on the hardwood for the point guard. Junior Julia McLaughlin and senior Melanie Mocniak combined for the other six points in the run.
Salisbury would continue to stay hot for most of the half, extending the lead to as much as 10 by the 7:16 mark, but Amherst would make a run. Catching some heat with six minutes left in the period, the Lord Jeffs went on a run of their own, 14 points this time, to carry a 33-25 advantage into the break.
"We just had to get back to what we were doing at the beginning of the game with pressuring them," senior Sarah Seipp said about figuring things out for the final 20 minutes. "We fed off of that. We also needed to work the ball around and driving and dishing."
An opening three-pointer by Hackett to start the second half proved that the hot hand didn't go away at the break, cutting the deficit to five, but a quick layup by Megan Robertson of Amherst showed that this game was going to stay close.
Trading several baskets, an 11-point run would start up for Salisbury to reclaim the lead. Kicked off by two free throws by Hackett, Seipp followed with her second long ball of the game in the left corner, catching a dish from Hackett on the drive. Keeping the tempo, Hackett connected on a transition layup, before McLaughlin would hit a jumper at the top of the arc to give Salisbury back the advantage, 39-38. Sophomore Lauren Rothfeld capped the run, ripping down an offensive board and put back for the three-point lead with 13:15 remaining.
Through the next eight minutes, the lead changed five times with the Sea Gulls making the final change at the 5:39 mark off an offensive board by Seipp to find Hackett for the pull-up jumper. Seipp wouldn't stop there, making a steal on the inbounds pass and getting the quick layup to push the lead further. On the next series, Seipp connected again, this time on a right-wing jumper for a 55-50 lead. The six points between the two was turned in a 40-second stretch.
A jump shot by Mocniak and another by Hackett would give the Gulls some cushion into the final stretch, only allowing the Lord Jeffs to get as close as three in the closing minutes. Two free throws capped off the scoring for SU with 17 seconds remaining to close out a 63-58 victory and send the Gulls to the Elite Eight.
"I think when you get to this point and the talent is so high that even if you are playing great defense, they are going to hit key shots, I think the biggest thing is to keep the game close up to the last two minutes," Head Coach Kelly Lewandowski said. "And if we are in a position that it's just one or two points, we have a shot at winning."
Salisbury finished the game shooting 44.1 percent from the field, led by Hackett's game-high 29 points.
"I definitely took advantage of it when it was there," Hackett said about shooting 11-for-15 from the field for the game. "As always, I also tried to get my teammates open as well, working it into the post, and off the pick-and-roll, and things like that."
The senior guard also added four assists for the game.
Seipp also had a double-figure night dropping in 16 points, 11 of which were in the second half. McLaughlin held down the defensive end with four rebounds, three steals and a block, while SU collected seven steals off the Lord Jeffs' 19 turnovers for the game.
Advancing to Saturday's sectional final, the Sea Gulls will take on a familiar opponent, as No. 7 Montclair State downed No. 16 Bowdoin College, 61-54, in the other sectional semifinal matchup. The two squads met up in Panzer Athletic Center almost three months ago with the Red Hawks coming out victorious in the championship game of the winter tournament. Tipoff Saturday is set for 6 p.m.