MONTCLAIR, N.J. – The historic season by the No. 11 Salisbury University women's basketball team came to an end on Saturday night in the Elite Eight, just one win shy of punching its ticket to Grand Rapids, Michigan for championship weekend, as No. 7 Montclair State University jumped out to an early lead and held on for a 68-44 decision in Panzer Athletic Center.
"I think regardless of tonight, making the NCAA tournament was our number one goal at the beginning of the year," Head Coach Kelly Lewandowski said. "To get in by winning the conference makes this even more special, and to host the first two rounds and play in front of our fans and families at home, and to have the chance to travel and be one of the last eight standing is something special for our players and our school."
"I think it is something we will definitely remember."
Although senior Anna Hackett dropped in the first basket of the night off a jumper from the top of the key, it was the Red Hawks that controlled the tempo early on, following Hackett's basket with an 11-point run. Montclair's Melissa Tobie, who finished the night with a game-high 22 points, paced the Hawks with the first seven points.
Junior Kathy Albornoz cut off the run finding room on the left side for the finish, but Montclair continued to stay hot early, hitting a long ball and a transition layup to extend the lead to 16-4.
With the Red Hawks pushing a 30-12 lead with eight minutes remaining in the first half, a run of Salisbury's own cut the deficit to 11, but the Gulls wouldn't break the double-digit barrier the rest of the game. Junior Julia McLaughlin connected on two jumpers, followed by an Albornoz layup and free throw to bring the score to 30-19.
Senior Sarah Seipp, who finished with a team-high 13 points, dropped in six of the 10 points scored by the Gulls through the first 10 minutes of the second half, with all three baskets being strong drives down the lane for tough finishes over the defense. Albornoz tacked in a layup, while Hackett drove the lane, drawing the defense, and finding senior Aleisha Hobbs on a bounce pass for another layup to get the score to 56-37.
The Red Hawks held the advantage to the 20-point range for the closing five minutes of the game, as they finished out the contest on an 8-3 run. Hackett and Seipp connected for the three-pointer for Salisbury, as Hackett drove the left lane to kick it out to Seipp for the left-corner long ball.
"If we can't go, I can't pick another coach that I think deserves to go (to the Final Four)," Lewandowski said about Montclair Head Coach Karin Harvey and the Red Hawks. "I think they are an excellent team and they are very well coached through their entire staff. And Karin has been like a mentor to me since I started coaching."
The Sea Gulls conclude the season with a 28-3 record and a trip to the NCAA sectional final, the furthest any team in 90 years of the program has ever advanced. The 28 wins mark a new program record in a single season, while the 17-1 tally in the Capital Athletic Conference sets a new league record in wins, culminating in the Sea Gulls' fourth conference title.
"It's always easier to be a great team over time when you retain players, and I feel like we had a lot of returners this year from last year," Hackett said. "We knew that our goals were going to be the same this year, so it makes it a lot easier."
With the end of the season, Salisbury congratulates six seniors on great careers, as Hackett, Seipp, Hobbs, Melanie Mocniak, Courtney McManus, and Alexis Perno conclude their time in collegiate play. Hackett, a four-year starter for the Sea Gulls, concludes her career as the No. 2 leading scorer in program history with 1,802 points, as well as No. 3 in assists with 515.