By Daniel Popoloski
The Pioneers women’s basketball team lost to Montclair State University in the NJAC semifinals, falling just short, 71-62.
The fifth seeded Pioneers came close to upsetting the top-ranked Redhawks, as they stormed out of the gates to a commanding 10-0 lead in the first minutes of the game. However, Montclair roared back, tying the game at the end of the quarter. Montclair continued to try to pull away, but William Paterson led by as much as three late in the third quarter. The Pioneers again came close late in the fourth, trailing by only four points with less than five minutes to play, but they were unable to hold on.
The Redhawks rode a clutch performance down the stretch from sophomore Katie Sire. After the Pioneers drew close late in the fourth, Sire knocked down three free throws to just about put the game out of reach. Those three points were part of her 18 total in the game.
The Pioneers were largely carried through the first half by sophomore guard Jackie Rodriguez, who scored 11 of her 16 points then, as well as tallying four rebounds. Senior standouts Alex Milne and Brittany Harden continued their solid play, adding 15 and 18 points respectively.
The loss was frustrating for the squad after upsetting fourth-seeded and possibly NCAA tournament-bound Kean University in the opening round in an overtime thriller. The Pioneers, despite their low seeding, had more than enough talent to take down the top teams in the region, and that showed during their tournament run.
While there are 20 at-large bids up for grabs to make the NCAA D-III tournament in March, WPU may likely find itself out of the draw, and in turn, see the season cut short.
Conference foes Rowan University and Stockton University are likely to be selected to the national tournament, with Kean having an outside shot.
Not making the national tournament would mark the end of the great career of Alex Milne and Brittany Harden, the only two seniors on WPU’s team. While those two were key players this season, next year could have an even higher ceiling considering this team is very young and could be just coming into its own.