Women’s basketball strong in the first round, falls to league leaders in Patriot League Tournament

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Women’s basketball ends season at the Patriot League Tournament (Photo by AJ Traub ’20).

AJ Traub

Women’s basketball entered the Patriot League Tournament as the #8 seed, earning a home game in the first round against #9 Boston. Sophomore guard Sarah Agnello and freshman guard Olivia Martino caught fire, dropping 41 points combined in a 66-61 win.

The victory sent them to #1-seed American, a team that beat the Leopards twice this season and won all but their final two Patriot League games. The Leopards couldn’t overcome a large first quarter deficit, leading to the end of their season.

The first quarter against Boston started off slow for the Leopards, with the Terriers leading 14-9 as the quarter came to a close. Freshman guard Drew Freeland started the scoring with a layup, sophomore forward Alexis Santarelli made a pair of shots and Martino began her scoring output with a three-pointer.

Agnello started the second quarter and stepped up immediately, scoring the Leopards’ first five points in the quarter.

“[Boston players] were focused on stopping [freshman forward] Natalie [Kucowski] and Alexis [Santarelli],” Agnello said. “From that, they were constantly crashing in on the paint. So [with] me standing in gaps, it was easier to get me the ball.”

Agnello, Martino and senior guard Sammy Stipa scored all of the Leopards’ 22 points in the second quarter, but Boston notched a three-pointer at the end to hold Lafayette to a 31-28 lead.

“A lot of the preparation focuses on decision making and knowing what offensive opportunities are going to be available to you, but also what opportunities are going to be available for your teammates,” Kucowski said. 

The Leopards were holding onto a 43-39 lead at the end of the third, with a balanced attack which saw senior forward Ellen Graham, Santarelli, Agnello and Martino making shots to keep Lafayette in the lead.

“Once everyone starts getting involved, everyone’s energy just drastically increases,” Kucowski said. “Over the season, we played our best games when we were sharing the ball with each other and making the extra pass so that our teammate could get a better shot.”

After three-pointers by Martino and Freeland, and a layup from Santarelli, the Leopards found themselves tied at 51. The team had been there before, winning both match ups with Boston in close games during the regular season.

“Everyone was still really calm because we knew what we had to do to win,” Agnello said. “We knew that if it was a close game, we would win in the end of it.”

That’s when Agnello took over, making back-to-back threes before stealing the ball and hitting another two possessions later. The run gave the Leopards a 60-51 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Agnello (career-high 24 points) and Martino (17 points) struck again as Lafayette closed out the win, setting up a ride to American University for a game two days later.

“We matched up well with American,” Agnello said. “Since they were the #1 seed and we had such a good game against Boston, we had nothing to lose. Our mentality was to leave everything out on the court.”

The Leopards couldn’t get anything going in the first quarter, with American dominating 22-3 as the buzzer sounded. The Leopards kept the pace up despite the score, outscoring American in the second and fourth quarters. In the end, American came away with the win, 55-35.

“They got off to a really good start in the beginning, and our defense adjusted,” Kucowski said.

The team’s defense held American to 18 baskets on 57 attempts from the field. The Leopards were putting up shots in hopes of going on a run, but ended up with just 12 shots made on 57 attempts.

“The score was deceiving because despite the point difference, we were still playing hard and competing with them,” Kucowski said. “We were getting good shots and good looks at the rim, but they just weren’t falling. Earlier in the season, if our shots weren’t falling, we would fall apart on defense, but [against American] we continued to play hard on defense. Fifty-five points was well below their average.”

The defeat meant the last college basketball game for seniors Graham, Stipa and regional all-academic guard Anna Ptasinski.

“They were always very involved with everything in our lives and actually cared,” Agnello said. “That’s something that I want to be able to do when I’m a senior because it makes the other players feel much more confident and like they have a real purpose on the team.”

It also marks the end of the first full season for the Leopards under head coach Kia Damon, with a win and a loss in the playoffs and a bright outlook on next season.

“I would say it was a really successful season for there being so many changes,” Agnello added. “The program is only going to keep growing and getting better.”