By Monica D’Ippolito
BABSON PARK, MA — The State University of New York at New Paltz run in the NCAA Tournament ended Saturday at the hands of hosting No. 10/13 Babson College, 76-66.
A tight game throughout, the Beavers used a strong fourth quarter start, scoring eight unanswered to pull away and advanced into the Sweet 16, while the Hawks end another strong season at 24-5 overall on its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
SUNY New Paltz struggled around the basket, hitting just 32 percent on the day and was caught in foul trouble early, as its two leading scorers and All-SUNYAC selections Lexi Van Vorst and Brianna Fitzgerald were hit with two early fouls in the first.
However, in their absence, Graci Serravillo stepped up to carry the team offensively in the first half, scoring 11 points in 20 minutes. She tied the score at nine with a finish at the basket, as she went behind the back driving left and finishing in the lane, forcing a Beavers timeout with 3:18 to go. Maddie Gillis tied the score at 11 with a put-back, but Babson scored on consecutive plays to take a five-point lead. Jenny Walton answered with a 3-pointer to trim the score to 16-14. Abby Korzekwinski tied the score once again at 16 all, as she was there to clean up a miss off a drive by Walton with less than a minute left.
Serravillo tied the game at 18 to begin the second, and Lexi Van Vorst knotted the score at 21 after burying a 3-pointer a minute later, but the Beavers proceeded on a 7-0 run to create a cushion down the stretch. Van Vorst then suffered her third foul with seven minutes still left forcing her out, but Serravillo stepped up to lead the offense to help chip away at the lead. The Altamont, NY native drove and finished for two to bring the score to 32-25 at the media timeout, then connected on a jumper out of the break, holding the difference at five at halftime.
“I feel like we were struggling in the halfcourt and seeing some of Bri’s shots not go in was kind of a shock because it always seems to go in and that was tough, but I knew if we could get out in transition and run the floor they seemed not as set and we could attack a little bit more,” Serravillo said. “So, when I was able to get out a little bit and come off screens, I was like, “I need to take these shots and take these looks because we might not get a better one.’ It is tough not having [Van Vorst and Fitzgerald] out there so yeah, there was a little bit more pressure and once I hit those first few shots, I was like, ‘alright I can get going in this game.’”
Like they have all season, the Hawks opened up the second half strong. Korzekwinski knocked down a corner 3 to create a two-point difference to start and slowly, they started chipping away to eventually tie again at 42 following back-to-back makes in the paint by Van Vorst and Fitzgerald, who both were playing with three personal fouls.
The Hawks got as close as seven, but struggled getting a stop as Babson worked the ball inside and continued getting to the foul line where it hit 24-of-31 to put the game away.
Fitzgerald suffered her fifth and final foul as time winded down and coach Jamie Seward went with an all-senior lineup to end the game. The group gathered on the floor for a brief moment together, ending a historic run on a perennial program.
“Obviously, this is a really special group to me. It’s seven of my best friends. Especially, to have coach end it with the five of us out on the court with 40 seconds left we just got into a huddle and said, ‘let’s just end this thing with some fun,’ and I think we really did that,” Van Vorst said. “As freshmen with four seniors and we had to step up. We had a couple people that did step in, Liv [Badura], Maddie [Gillis], Cass [Deaver] stepped up really big our freshmen year, and their roles kind of changed over the course our careers, but they never let that diminish them as leaders, as players and as role players. When they did come in, they did what they needed to do and honestly, without them I probably wouldn’t have gotten through my four years. It’s a really tough group and a great group. I wouldn’t have asked for anyone else.”