ERIE, Pa. -- The 34-0 and No. 1 Bentley is now just one win away from its first national championship after registering a 77-62 Final Four win against 18th-ranked Cal Poly Pomona on Wednesday night in the NCAA Division II Championships at the Erie Insurance Center.
Coach Barbara Stevens’ team will seek the title at 7 p.m. Friday night when they take on fifth-ranked West Texas A&M, which disposed of Nova Southeastern by a similar margin 80-66 in the first semifinal.
“I find myself somewhat overwhelmed by the emotion that we feel, the pride we feel in our team right now,” Stevens said, the fifth winningest women’s basketball coach of all-time (916 wins).The senior frontcourt trio of three-time All-America Lauren Battista, All-Northeast-10 Jacqui Brugliera and six-foot-one Caleigh Crowell combined to outscore the entire Bronco by one, finishing with 63 points and 27 rebounds while hitting 24 of 41 shots, including eight 3-pointers.
Battista, Bentley’s all-time leading scorer, showed why she is a candidate for WBCA Division II Player of the Year honors as she recorded 25 points, ten rebounds and five assists. Crowell’s 21 points included 15 without missing a shot in the second half, and Brugliera finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, a steal and some stellar defense on CPP’s All-Americs post Jada Blackwell.
Stevens said of the six-foot Brugliera, “I think she focused a lot of her attention last night on tying to guard Amber Dvorak. Tonight we told her we felt like she could be an offensive weapon. She didn’t have to worry about a 6-7 kid looming behind her when she got the ball in the post.”
It wasn’t quite a wire-to-wire victory, but the Falcons never trailed after a Battista jumper 3:11 into the contest made it a 7-6 game, maintaining a single-digit margin for most of the way.
That basket ignited a 14-4 Bentley spurt, creating a 19-10 advantage after eight minutes. Following the Battista hoop, Brugliera got it done at both ends, taking a charge (the first of three for Bentley in the first half) and finishing a fast-break with a lay-up.
The run also included Battista scoring after senior point guard Christiana Bakolas found her open inside, a Battista put-back and three-pointers from opposite sides of the court from Crowell and Brugliera.
After CPP bounced back with seven in a row during a stretch in which the Falcons turned cold, Bentley closed out the opening half with a 10-3 run during the final eight minutes. Battista had seven of the ten, both Brugliera and Crowell drew offensive fouls and the Bentley defense limited the Broncos to one basket in 12 attempts.
That sent the Falcons to the halftime locker room on the positive side of a 29-20 score following a 20-minute stretch in which they came up with four steals and a block, had a plus-nine rebounding margin and allowed only four offensive boards on 20 missed shots.
Cal Poly Pomona started strong in the second half, a 10-3 burst during the first 2:01 drawing the Californians within two. Blackwell had half the points but also picked up her third after her team drew within a deuce at 32-30.
A 10-0 Bentley explosion in a span of less than two minutes opened the game up, extending a three-point advantage to 54-41 with 8:22 to play. Bakolas hit an open Crowell underneath for two and fed Battista on a fast-break lay-up, freshman forward Jen Gemma hit a pair from the line, Brugliera added a second-chance basket and Crowell scored on a lay-up after coming up with a steal in the backcourt.
The Broncos cut it to eight several times before Crowell’s fourth three-ball of the night made it a 64-53 game with 1:59 left. Senior All-America Courtney Finn, coming off a career-best 30 in Bentley’s quarterfinal win over Drury University, tallied her first points with a pair of free throws with 1:32 on the clock, making it a 13-point spread. A parade to the line followed with the Falcons making 10 of 14 free throws during the final 81 seconds to lock up its first trip to the national championship game in 24 years.
Finn finished with six points, all at the line, and moved into tenth on Bentley’s all-time scoring list with 1,576 points. Bakolas delivered six assists and helped the Falcons win the rebounding game 41-36 with five.
Blackwell finished with 22 points and six rebounds before fouling out in the final minute, but was just four of nine inside the arc for the 26-7 Broncos.
Bentley, which set a school record for wins in a season, shot 52 percent in the second half and finished at .446 overall with nine triples in 28 attempts. CPP was limited to only .349 and was only 15 of 45 on its two-point attempts.