No dancing for local college hoops squads
SFC women’s squad eliminated from NEC tournament quarterfinals
Linda Cimino’s first year at the helm of the St. Francis Brooklyn women’s basketball team was a major success.
The Terriers (18-13) won five more games than they did during legendary SFC head coach John Thurston’s final season on Remsen Street.
They also went 12-6 in Northeast Conference play, earning the right to host an NEC Tournament quarterfinal game at the Pope Center for the first time since 1994.
But Cimino and her NCAA Tournament-hopeful squad didn’t get to extend their turnaround season beyond the first game of the league championships, dropping a tough 80-74 decision to visiting Mount St. Mary’s in front of 1,016 fans Monday night in Brooklyn Heights.
“I’m proud of the effort our players gave tonight,” noted Cimino, who watched her team take what proved to be its last lead of the season, 65-64, when grad student guard Dominique Ward made a pair of free throws with 5:50 left to play.
Mount freshman Michaela Harrison, who finished with a game-high 23 points, promptly answered by drilling a pair of 3-pointers around two free throws to spark a 9-2 run by the Mountaineers, who never looked back.
Senior guard Maria Palarino and junior standout Jade Johnson poured in 20 points apiece for the Terriers, who closed within two points on junior guard Mia Ehling’s free throws with just 23 ticks remaining on the clock before Harrison ended SFC’s spirited run by making four straight from the charity stripe.
“We played right to the end … this is what March is about,” a disappointed Cimino ceded following the contest.
After winning 18 of 31 regular-season contests and two-thirds of their NEC games, the Terriers appeared primed to match Thurston’s 2014-15 squad, which made an epic three-game run to the diminutive school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
“We inherited some really talented players. Coach Thurston left us with a really good foundation,” Cimino noted.
“We played a completely different style than what they were used to,” she added. “We were able to squeeze out all that competitiveness. I’m really proud of the direction this program is going in.”
The LIU-Brooklyn men saw their reign as NEC champions come to an end Saturday night in Loretto, Pennsylvania, against top-seeded St. Francis University as the Red Flash held off a late run by the Blackbirds to post a 72-64 win in the tournament semifinals.
The Blackbirds (16-16), who won their fourth NEC Championship of the decade under first-year head coach Derek Kellogg last March, shaved an 18-point deficit down to five on a pair of free throws by junior Jashaun Agosto with 11:19 to play in the second half.
LIU would not get any closer, however, as SFU’s Keith Braxton dominated the Blackbirds along the interior, finishing with a team-high 19 points and game-high 14 rebounds.
Senior sensation Raiquan Clark, who scored 21 points in LIU’s quarterfinal win vs. Sacred Heart last Wednesday, was held to just two points on 1-of-6 shooting in 25 minutes by the Red Flash.
Junior guard Julian Batts had 19 points, and Agosto finished with 15 for the Blackbirds, who fell two wins shy of going to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since the program won a record three straight conference titles under former head coaches Jim Ferry and Jack Perri from 2010-13.
“I have to give Saint Francis a lot of credit, I thought they came in with a good game plan,” Kellogg said. “They hit some timely shots and timely free throws and I thought the home-court advantage worked in their favor as well.
“I thought our guys competed, there were a few plays that we left out there. If we make them, that could have turned things in our favor. We clawed back in the second half, and we made it a good college basketball game.”
In other local college sports news, freshman sensation Elena Valenzuela continued her domination on the mound for the LIU-Brooklyn softball team, picking up her third straight NEC Pitcher of the Week award.
Valenzuela, who arrived in Downtown Brooklyn from La Habra High School in Whittier, California, went 2-1 on the hill last week, including eight perfect innings in a victory over Florida International, to boost her season record to 7-2 with a 1.58 ERA.
She has also tossed six complete games and four shutouts over 13 appearances, including nine starts, during her first full campaign with the Blackbirds (13-8), who are headed to Clearwater, Florida this weekend to compete in the USF Tournament, hosted by the University of South Florida.
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