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Weekend Wrapup: An Unexpected "Rivalry" Finale, and the "Lucky Seven" EIWA finishers

It sure didn't look like this was going to be how the Patriot League women's basketball championship would end up going into the tournament. Not so much No. 1-seeded Lehigh's presence in the tournament - but that the opponent is the No. 7 seed Lehigh fans love to hate.

My family and I were there yesterday, watching Lehigh overcome a slow start and a three point deficit at halftime to finally overwhelm the Army Lady Knights 61-42. Facing off against an Army team that beat the Lady Hawks 54-52 at Christl Arena and who gave them a run for their money in a 66-58 game on Valentine's day in Stabler, I was worried about this game from the outset.

But the ladies responded with an extraordinary second half where Lehigh shot 57.7% from the field and turned the screws defensively, only allowing 18 points in the second half. The unquestioned hero was senior G Tricia Smith, who came very close to a double-double with 12 points and 9 rebounds. When freshman C Alexa Williams took a nasty elbow to the face in the first half and had to leave, there was no dropoff: freshman F/C Emily Gratch jumped right in with 10 points and 7 rebounds in her place.

Worthy of mention the play of sophomore G Erica Prosser (14 points, 3 steals) and junior G Alex Ross (13 points) as well, but watching the game it was abundantly clear how much of a team effort this game was. It's clear how much the contributions of senior F Haly Crites, senior G Claire Sullivan and senior C Melissa Rich meant as well - double-digit minutes that didn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but were crucial to the victory.

*****

And what's the only thing keeping the 25-6 Lady Hawks (Real Time RPI: 69) from crossing off one of the biggest items on their bucket list? Going into the tournament, I thought that if Lehigh made it through the first two rounds, it was going to be No. 2-ranked American for sure.

I would have never believed that it would be "that school in Easton".

But it is. Yes, it is. Yes, 10-21 Lafayette (Real Time RPI: 245). The No. 7 seed. The Leopards, who went 4-12 in Patriot League play and who lost to the Lady Hawks by 21 points in January at Stabler and by 15 points at Kirby.

How did the Lady Leopards do it? Start with sophomore G/F LaKeisha Wright's game-winning jumper against No. 2-seeded American with 19 seconds to play - the margin of victory against the Eagles. Against Navy, Lafayette looked a lot like, well, Lehigh: playing tough defense while shooting 46% themselves in their 62-55 victory. Sophomore F Elizabeth Virgin played lights-out this weekend scoring in double figures both games, while Navy's focus on Wright saw senior G Jessica Spicer sink Navy for 17 points - including 4-for-8 from 3 point land.

This matchup - without a doubt - is the dream matchup for Lehigh and Lafayette fans alike. It's not only a rematch of 1997's championship game (which led to Lehigh's only Patriot League women's basketball championship and NCAA Tournament appearance) -it promises, quite possibly, a sellout crowd in Stabler filled with white-shirted Lafayette fans and brown-shirted Lehigh fans. It will be seen on national television on ESPNU ("El Ocho") at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Make no mistake, this Wednesday will be big time.

*****

Cornell was always going to be a very tough out in the EIWA championships, even with Lehigh's 21-1 dual record. While the Lehigh grapplers gave them a good run, they finished EIWA in second place to the Big Red. This year, though, Lehigh wrestlers earned two individual championships - and (at least) seven wrestlers heading to St. Louis to prove their mettle on the national stage.

The big story for Lehigh was junior 184 lb David Craig, who didn't give up a single point in the entire championship and dominated Cornell's Justin Kerber in the championship bout at 184 lbs. Criag is a real threat to be an individial champion in St. Louis, as is junior 141 lb Seth Ciasulli, who upset No. 1-seed Corey Janzen out of Harvard to win the individual title. Freshman heavyweight Zach Rey came close to making it three individual champions, but lost in a decision to Columbia's Ryan Flores.

Junior 133 lb Matt Fisk (3rd), junior 165 lb Mike Galante (3rd), senior 149 lb Trevor Chinn (4th), sophomore Alex Caruso (4th) and freshman 125 lb John McDonald all will be headed to nationals as automatic qualifiers.

And lest I forget, Lehigh head wrestling coach Steve Santoro won an impressive piece of hardware himself: EIWA Coach of the Year. Congratulations to everyone - and we'll see if Lehigh will send a few more to nationals in terms of at-large wrestlers, too.

Comments

ngineer said…
Correction there LFN. McDonald is NOT going to NCAA's. 174 pounder Caruso is. McDonald finished 6th and Caruso finished fourth.

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