BETHLEHEM, Pa. --- Moravian College concludes its Top 10 Exciting Games & Fantastic Finishes list today with the No. 1 game – the women's basketball team's 66-65 overtime win at The Catholic University of America in the Landmark Conference Semifinals.
The Greyhounds and Cardinals met in the opening round of the Landmark Tournament at the DuFour Athletic Center in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, February 26, just four days after they had played in Bethlehem in the regular season finale with Catholic winning by 12 points. When the teams played for the first time in 2013-14 back in January, the Cardinals won an overtime game in Washington, D.C. as well.
"This was one of the most important games of our season," stated senior guard Alyssa Hann. "Our main goal was to win the Landmark Championship game. So we knew beating Catholic was not only going to be a challenge, but it was also going to leave us one step closer to achieving our ultimate goal."
Catholic opened the semifinal contest with four straight points before the Greyhounds got on the scoreboard. The Hounds took their first lead, 7-6, on a three-pointer by senior guard Danielle Brogan, the first of her five treys in the contest, with 13:55 to play in the first half. The Greyhounds pushed the lead to 14-8 on a three-pointer from sophomore Marie Rossignoli just about midway through the opening 20 minutes.
The Cardinals closed the gap to a point, 14-13, before senior forward Ericka Blair hit a step back three-pointer for a 17-13 advantage. After Catholic closed the lead to a point once again, the Greyhounds ran off six straight points to build a 25-18 lead after Hann connected on a jumper with 4:54 before halftime.
"I felt really good," stated Head Coach Mary Beth Spirk on the early part of the game. "We had a good mindset in approaching the game and we were playing solid."
For the third time in the half, the Cardinals got within a point of the Hounds, 29-28, but a jumper from Blair, who scored nine of her 11 points in the first half, with just over a minute on the clock would send Moravian to the locker room with a 31-28 lead.
"We talked about staying consistent," Spirk said recalling her halftime talk. "We needed to take Catholic's run and maintain our poise."
Blair started the scoring in the second half with a lay-up before Brogan hit a hot streak. Leading 33-30, Brogan would make three-pointers on three straight offensive possessions for the Hounds, pushing the lead into double digits, 42-32, for the first time in the contest, just 2:16 into the second half.
"When I hit the string of threes, I remember having a huge adrenaline rush," Brogan recalled. "After losing to Catholic a few days before this game, I knew how badly we all wanted to win. It was one of those moments where my shots felt effortless and I just remember the team going crazy on the sidelines. It was very exciting."
Senior guard Katie O'Rourke extended that lead to 15 points, 48-33, with 15:24 remaining.
"We were feeling pretty good," commented Spirk on the lead. "But I was also still nervous because we had been in this position before with Catholic. Unfortunately, we had big leads before against them and lost."
A free throw from Brogan had the Hounds' edge at 49-35 with 14:02 on the clock; however, Moravian did not score for the next 8:13 as Catholic closed the gap to 49-44.
"Everyone was on edge," explained Spirk on the prolonged scoring drought. "We were trying not to lose, instead of playing to win. We needed to get back to winning the game, instead of not losing."
Hann saw the situation as the team coming together. "Once Catholic went up by 15, we knew that nothing was more important at that point than staying together as a team and not falling apart," she said. "Quite frankly, we did just that."
The Cardinals kept the pressure on with inside baskets and at the foul line, tying the game at 52-52 with 4:04 left in regulation. Catholic didn't stop there and scored the next five points for a 57-52 lead at the 2:43 mark, making a 15-point deficit a five-point lead in a span of 11:15.
"We are not going to lose this game," Spirk recalled telling the team in a 30-second timeout. "Everyone has to play smarter, harder and with more energy than Catholic."
O'Rourke and Brogan each hit a pair of free throws to pull the Hounds back within a point, 57-56, with 1:48 on the clock. After a quick jumper by the Cardinals, Hann tied the contest at 59-59, with a three-pointer from the right side in front of the Moravian bench at 1:12 to go in the second half.
"Once we started cutting their lead down towards the end of the second half, confidence was the biggest factor for me," commented Hann. "In that particular offensive set, our team was moving the ball great, and as soon as I received the pass on the wing with time ticking away, I didn't even hesitate to shoot. I had the open look and all I could think about was winning the game and I know our team felt nothing but confidence and excitement going into overtime."
"When Alyssa took it, we thought she should have made one more pass to Danielle who we thought was open," remembered Spirk. "In the end, she wanted to shoot it and we want players who want to shoot it in that situation."
In the final 72 seconds of regulation, Catholic got off three shots, one of which was blocked by Hann while Moravian had just one shot as the game would head to overtime.
The Greyhounds needed just 15 seconds of overtime to get a lead that they would not relinquish. Senior forward Laura Jordan controlled the tipoff of overtime to O'Rourke, and the Hounds eventually found Brogan on the right side in almost the exact spot where Hann had tied the game, and Brogan drilled her fifth three-pointer for a 62-59 edge. That would be Moravian's only field goal of overtime.
"Hitting a shot like that in overtime is always big," stated Brogan. "I remember the whole team feeling very in sync that night. I wanted to win that game more than anything, especially after losing to Scranton in playoffs at the buzzer the year before."
The three-pointer would give Brogan a team-high 18 points in the game, and she also grabbed a team-best 10 rebounds for just her third career double-double.
"One of my goals for this past season was to become a better rebounder," commented Brogan. "Being a bigger guard I knew how important it was for the teams' success. It was especially important in this game because the guards on Catholic were good rebounders."
With both teams going to the free throw line, O'Rourke and Jordan each hit one free throw as the Hounds had a 64-62 lead with 40 seconds to play.
"We work on free throws all the time," Spirk explained. "We want to get fouled and go to the foul line. We know how important they are in winning or losing a game."
After a steal by sophomore forward Alesha Marcks, Hann would end up at the foul line.
Entering the game, Hann was shooting just 59 percent at the foul line but she would calmly drain both free throws to put the Hounds' up 66-62 with 12 ticks on the clock.
"Honestly, I didn't really think much before stepping to the line. I just did my routine," recalled Hann. "I feel like I've shot millions of free throws in my career, so I just did what I always practiced and went to the line with confidence. After the free throws went in, it was a little sign of relief I guess you could say. It goes to show that practice and hard work pays off. All I could think about is winning the game and heading to the Landmark Championship. It was a total team effort."
"I loved her positive mind set and her wanting to take those shots," Spirk stated about Hann. "The first two, I was so happy for her, she was confident and put the team in a great position to win the game."
Catholic made things interesting by hitting a three-pointer six seconds later and then sending Hann back to the foul line. Unfortunately, Hann missed both free throws this time to keep it a one-point game.
"When she missed the first one, I almost wanted her to miss the second one on purpose, so they could not set up a play," explained Spirk. "So when she did miss the second one (not on purpose), it worked in our favor. Catholic did not get a good look at the last shot."
The Cardinals got trapped by the Greyhounds with the ball on the far sideline and didn't make it to half court. The desperation heave fell short into Brogan's arms as the buzzer sounded.
"Playing on the road at Catholic in the middle of the week was definitely a challenge," stated Brogan. "I was student teaching at the time and I had to leave school early that day for the game and grade papers the whole ride there. Catholic had always been a difficult place to play at. That being said, it made the win so much more exciting. We were going to the championship."
With the win, Moravian picked up its 20th win of the season and earned a trip to top seed The University of Scranton for the Landmark Championship game on March 1.
"Obviously it was a huge game," Spirk said. "I knew it not only meant we would play for a championship with a win, but it also probably assured us of an NCAA bid, win or lose in the finals. We also wanted to bounce back from a tough loss on Senior Day to Catholic. Those five seniors wanted to prove that we could play better than they performed, and they wanted to play in a championship game."
You can check out the original game day story at http://moraviansports.com/sports/wbkb/2013-14/releases/20140226p709g2.
On Wednesday, July 30, Moravian will begin to take a look back at its Top 10 Stories from 2013-14 as the school prepares for the fall preseason camps to begin in mid-August.
Top 10 Exciting Games & Fantastic Finishes of 2013-14
#10 – Field Hockey Wins Back to Back Overtime Games
#9 – Softball Walks Off in 10th to Earn Split with Catholic
#8 – Baseball Walks Off Twice to Sweep Catholic
#7 – Football Scores 52 Points in Wild Win over F&M
#6 – Baseball Sweeps Susquehanna in Two Extra Inning Walk Offs
#5 – Men's Basketball Defeats Mt. St. Mary on Half Court Buzzer Beater
#4 – Women's Basketball Tops No. 25 Scranton at Foul Line in Final Seconds
#3 – Women's Soccer Beats Rival Muhlenberg in Overtime
#2 – Baseball Walks Off vs. No. 6 Rowan to End Regular Season
Best of the Rest - What Missed the Top 10
#1 – Women's Basketball's OT Win at Catholic in Landmark Semifinals