The Spartans locked down on defense when they needed it most, giving up just one point over the final five minutes to earn the ECAC Division III New England Championship with a hard-fought 51-42 victory over Suffolk on Sunday afternoon in Glenbrook Gymnasium.
Castleton led by just one, 42-41, at the five-minute mark, but concluded the game on a 9-1 run to earn the program's first-ever ECAC Championship. Senior guard Kelly Conway was named the Most Outstanding Player after spearheading the Spartans' defensive effort. Conway scored just three points but had five rebounds, two steals and two blocks while harassing Jacqueline Vienneau into seven turnovers and 6-for-18 shooting from the floor.
Suffolk finished the game shooting 29.6 percent from the floor, the 15th time this season Castleton has held an opponent under 30 percent shooting. The Spartans also forced 18 turnovers, matched a season high with eight blocks and scored 19 second-chance points compared to just six for the Rams.
Castleton finished the game at 30.5 percent from the field, led by Alyssa Leonard and Jade Desroches. Leonard scored a team-high 14 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. Jade Desroches came off the bench to scored 13 points, including three triples, and added five rebounds and a career-high three blocks.
Vienneau scored a game-high 15 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists. Jennifer Ruys added nine points, seven rebounds and an impressive six blocks.
The Spartans came out aggressive and jumped out to a 7-1 lead over the first five minutes. Vienneau hit a jumper to end the run, but Castleton extended its lead to 16-7 on baseline jump shot from Meghan O'Sullivan with 11:41 left in the half. The Spartans eventually extended their lead to ten, 29-19, on a jump shot by Stephanie Linder with 5:44 remaining.
Illiana Quadri countered with back-to-back buckets to drop the lead to six, 19-13, before a Shelby LaBarge free throw and O'Sullivan layup pushed the lead back to nine at 2:19. Quadri drilled a three from the corner 30 seconds later, but Desroches concluded the scoring with a nice bank shot from just outside the right block to make 24-16 with 1:26 left. Strong defense over the final minute left the Spartans in front by eight at the break.
The teams traded baskets to open the second, however, five straight by the Rams made it 28-23 at 16:22. Leonard responded with a jumper and Castleton eventually pushed its advantage back to eight on a shot from beyond the arc by Desroches with 9:26 remaining.
Trailing by eight, Suffolk went on a 6-0 run to slice the Spartan lead to just two, 36-34, with 8:01 left. Leonard nailed a jumper on Castleton's next possession, but a 5-2 run by Vienneau kept the Rams within one, 40-39, at 6:33. Leonard then found LaBarge down low for a nice layup, though Shelby Santini beat the defense down the floor for a layup to make it 42-41 with 5:13 remaining.
LaBarge hit a pair of free throws at 4:55, and after a defensive stop, Leonard made two from the line for the five-point lead. Vienneau made one of two free throws with 3:04 left, but that was Suffolk's last point as another three from Desroches put Castleton in front for good, 49-42, with 1:47 remaining.
Suffolk finishes its season with a 23-8 record while the Spartans conclude with a program-record 29-2 mark for the year.
Senior Tarryn Bolognani had nine rebounds, two points and two blocks and finishes her career as the winningest player in program history with record of 86-28. Conway, meanwhile, earned 69 wins and three NAC Defensive Player of the Year awards in her three seasons at Castleton.
Courtesy: Castleton Athletic Department
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