With the 63-team field in the NCAA Div. III Women's Basketball Championship whittled down to 16, two of the four NESCAC teams remain.
After Wesleyan and Bates were eliminated in the first round, Bowdoin and Williams each won a pair of games and are poised to make runs at the Final Four.
Bowdoin, playing at home, survived a scare in the second round before surpassing Brandeis, 59-56. With the game tied at 56 with under 1:30 to play, senior tri-captain Justine Pouravelis converted on a lay-up to give the Polar Bears the lead for good, and junior guard Julia Noonin added a free-throw on a later possession for the final margin.
Pouravelis, a NESCAC First Team All-Conference selection and Defensive Player of the Year, ended the game with 13 points, six rebounds, five steals and three blocks. Junior forward Eileen Flaherty, also a First Team All-NESCAC selection, led all scorers with 18 points and added nine rebounds.
After taking a mere three-point lead into the intermission during their first round contest against Colby-Sawyer, the heavily favored Polar Bears outscored their opponents 40-24 in the second half for a 73-54 blowout victory. Flaherty and Pouravelis led all scorers once again, netting 23 and 16 points, respectively.
Bowdoin's two victories at home this past weekend were its 69th and 70th consecutive home triumphs. According to the Bowdoin athletic department, the latter win broke the New England record for consecutive home wins, previously held by the University of Connecticut.
Williams also needed to snap a late-game tie to escape the second round, pulling off a 71-67 upset of Messiah, the ninth-ranked team in the nation. With the game tied at 65, Williams senior co-captain Colleen Hession knocked down a contested three-pointer to give the Ephs the lead for good. Messiah responded quickly with a bucket, but Williams added three free throws to secure the win.
Hession, a Second Team All-NESCAC selection, ended the game with 12 points and four assists, but it was unheralded junior forward Meghan Stetson who led the way for Williams with 26 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
The Ephs came from behind in the first round to get by NYU after falling behind 28-22 at the half. Hession provided 18 points in the final seven minutes of the contest, giving her a game-high 22 on the contest and sending Williams to the second round. The 63-56 margin was deceptively wide, as the Ephs never had the lead until the 7:05 mark in the second half.
Bates' exit from the tournament came in heartbreaking fashion on Friday night.
After playing an even first 40 minutes to a 62-62 tie against Bridgewater (Va.), the Bobcats roared to a 69-62 advantage in the extra period. But Bridgewater closed the game in the final 2:27 with a 9-0 run which included two three-pointers in the last 34 seconds.
Junior center Meg Coffin, the 2006 NESCAC Player of the Year, paced Bates with 16 points and 17 rebounds in the loss, while sophomore Second Team All-NESCAC teammates Matia Kostakis (22 points, seven rebounds) and Sarah Barton (nine points, 12 assists) were also at their best in the losing effort.
Wesleyan, the league's bubble team and lowest seed to make it into the tournament, nearly completed an upset of No. 15 Muhlenberg, as it led the entire game until the 3:09 mark in the second half. However, Muhlenberg completed its comeback and prevailed, 57-50. The Cardinals' senior tri-captains Hannah Stubbs (First Team All-NESCAC), Ashley Mastrangelo and Meghan Robinson distinguished themselves on the national stage in their final collegiate contests, scoring 13, 13, and 14 points, respectively.
The Sweet 16 matchups will be on Friday night, and if Bowdoin and Williams can pick up victories they will move on to Saturday's National Quarterfinals. The two schools are only three wins away from setting up an All-NESCAC National Championship game.
Bowdoin will leave its comfort zone in Morrell Gymnasium this weekend, making the short trip to Southern Maine, which houses the top-ranked team in the nation and host of the sectional round. The Polar Bears won't have to worry about Southern Maine yet though, as their Sweet 16 matchup is against No. 8 Mary Washington. If Bowdoin wins on Friday, it will meet the winner of the Southern Maine/Bridgewater game.
Williams has a slightly longer trip for its game as its Sweet 16 sectional is hosted by Scranton. The Ephs meet No. 12 Baldwin-Wallace on Friday night. With a win, Williams moves on to face either Scranton, the second-ranked team in the nation, or Rochester on Saturday.
If either Bowdoin or Williams survives the weekend and makes the Final Four, they could enjoy a terrific home-court advantage, as this season's National Championship weekend will take place in nearby Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball.