AMHERST, Mass. (WROC) — The nationally-ranked St. John Fisher College women’s basketball team will advance in the NCAA Division III Championship as the Cardinals, who are ranked 20th in the latest D3hoops.com national poll, held on to defeat Rhode Island College, 55-52, in the opening round of play inside Amherst College’s LeFrak Gymnasium. With the win, Fisher improved to 26-2 on the season while the Anchorwoman had their year come to a close at 23-6.
Fisher will advance to the Round of 32 where it will face No. 8 Amherst at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening. The Mammoths defeated the SUNY Poly Wildcats, 60-42, to move on to the second round.
It was all Fisher from the opening whistle as the Cardinals buried three triples in the first quarter and held the Anchorwomen without a field goal for nearly eight minutes to secure a 14-4 edge through the first 10 minutes of play.
The Cardinals carried their momentum over into the second period as Claire Kruszka and Leah Koonmen buried back-to-back 3-pointers as part of a 10-2 run over a span two minutes to make it 24-6 in Fisher’s favor. As the period continued, the tides shifted with Rhode Island College finding its footing and grabbing control with a 17-2 run that included 14 unanswered points to cut the deficit to three, 26-23, with just under three minutes to play before the break.
With time ticking away in the opening half, Sidney Tomasso pushed the lead back to five with a lay-up, but the Anchorwomen countered on the other end with four quick points to pull to within one, 28-27. From there, Koonmen drew a foul and buried both attempts to make it a three-point affair at halftime.
Leading 30-27 to begin the third period, the Cardinals quickly saw the tables turn as Rhode Island College buried a 3-pointer on its opening possession to knot the score at 30-30. From there, Fisher would regroup and used a 9-1 burst to forge ahead, 41-35.
Leading by two possessions with time winding down, the Cardinals’ lead would be short-lived as the Anchorwomen countered with a 7-1 run of their own to level the game at 42 points aside before a pair of free throws in the final seconds by Kruszka staked head coach Melissa Kuberka’s team to a 44-42 edge with 10 minutes left in play.
With momentum up for grabs, Fisher scored back-to-back buckets to extend its lead to six points with 7:43 left to play. From there, Rhode Island College went cold from the floor as it managed just one field goal over a stretch of nearly seven minutes. Trailing by five with 1:22 showing on the clock, the Anchorwomen found their second wind and scored four unanswered points and cut the gap to one, but Fisher was able to knock down a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to hold on for the three-point win.
Kruszka led the way for Fisher with a double-double as the sophomore finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot. Tomasso added 13 points and seven rebounds in the win while Koonmen contributed 10 points and eight rebounds to Fisher’s cause. Kaitlyn Walker netted seven points and hauled in eight rebounds.
As a team, Fisher held Rhode Island College to just 29 percent shooting overall. The Cardinals forced their opponent in to 12 turnovers and finished with six blocked shots.