By Monica D’Ippolito
POTSDAM – The State University of New York at New Paltz made program history Saturday after sneaking away with a 67-56 win over hosting Potsdam in its regular season finale.
The Hawks, who already secured the top seed in the SUNYAC Tournament ahead of the weekend, had just the Bears in the way of becoming the first team in program history to go undefeated at a perfect 18-0 in conference play. Potsdam kept the game interesting, looking for an upset after being eliminated from postseason contention as it took a one-point lead after the first quarter.
The two teams traded leads to begin the second before Julia Sabatino and Brianna Fitzgerald earned back-to-back trips to the foul line to create a three-point difference. After a made free throw by Potsdam, Lexi Van Vorst hit in the paint before Sabatino found Jenny Walton for 3 that gave the Hawks a seven-point lead. However, the Bears answered with a 6-0 run in the next five-plus minutes that trimmed the advantage to just 23-22 with two minutes left. Victoria Venus and Van Vorst hit back-to-back shots to re-up the six-point cushion, but the Bears connected in the last 20 seconds before the break to get within four entering the third.
The Bears tied the score at 31 four minutes into the third and even regained the lead on a bucket by Bella Barner two minutes later. The two teams traded leads three times in the final minutes of the quarter before Van Vorst hit from 3-point range with less than a minute to go. SUNY New Paltz earned a stop on the ensuing Bears possession and the Hawks got up the floor quick, as Graci Serravillo snatched the defensive board and quickly outlet to Van Vorst who hit before the buzzer to bring the lead to 45-42 going into the fourth.
SUNY New Paltz had its most prolific quarter in the final 10 minutes, scoring 22 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Walton opened up the period with a steal, leading to a made bucket by Brianna Fitzgerald off a dish by Van Vorst. Walton then took over the rest of the quarter and made sure the Hawks walked away with a piece of history.
The junior went on her own 8-0 run to build a nine-point lead for SUNY New Paltz with more than six minutes to go. Van Vorst and Fitzgerald continued the run with six more points to give the Hawks their largest lead of the game at 61-46 with 4:44 left. SUNY New Paltz held on from there, maintaining the double-digit lead the rest of the way.
Walton was the catalyst offenisvely, ending with a team-high 20 points in 28 minutes, shooting 6-for-11 from the field and 3-for-7 from 3-point range with six rebounds and two steals. Van Vorst followed with 18 points, three assists and a game-high four steals. Fitzgerald finished with 15 points, seven rebounds a game-high eight assists and two steals.
The Hawks finish the regular season 18-0 in the SUNYAC and will look to stay unbeaten in the conference when they begin postseason play Friday in the semifinal round, which they will host in the Hawk Center at 5:30 p.m.