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Tom Reisenweber | | March 26, 2014

Experience key as Bentley holds off Drury to reach semis

ERIE, Pa. -- Bentley entered the season with one of the most experienced starting lineups in the country. On Tuesday night, that experience helped the Falcons rally for their school-record 33rd win on the season.

Graduate student Courtney Finn scored 30 points and senior Lauren Battista added 20 as Bentley held off Drury 74-66 in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in front of 2,258 fans at Erie Insurance Arena.

Bentley moves on to the national semifinals Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET against No. 18 Cal Poly-Pomona with a trip to the national championship on the line.

Bentley starts four seniors and one graduate with another senior coming off the bench. The experienced Falcons have been to the Elite Eight three of the past four years and managed to stay poised throughout the game with upset-minded Drury making several runs.

“We showed a tremendous amount of grit and determination and obviously it helps when you have players like Courtney Finn and Lauren Battista to count on," head coach Barbara Stevens said. "They are our go-to players and we went to them down the stretch and they delivered. There was about an eight-minute stretch in the first half when we had three starters on the bench with two fouls and Courtney came through and led us to a four-point lead at halftime.”

Finn scored 11 of her 30 points in the first half but her leadership and poise were key in keeping the Falcons on top going into the second half.

Drury (27-4) made another run in the second half to take a 52-50 lead, but freshman Jen Gemma hit a free throw and Finn went on a 6-0 run by herself to give Bentley the lead for good at 57-52 with 6 minutes, 26 seconds left.

“It really helps us that a majority of us have been here before,” said Finn, who was named an All-American on Monday night. “We knew what to expect and know each opponent is going to be tough. I think the experience really helped us out.”

Battista, another All-American and player of the year candidate, knew that the experience was especially important when Drury made it's second-half run.

“We are extremely confident in each other and when Drury made it's run and went up a few points, we never had a sense of doubt that we were going to win this game,” Battista said. “It comes from playing together for four years and we've been down 15-20 points before and come back to win. I think it's a sense of confidence and calm among experienced players and the younger players have bought in. Jen Gemma could have easily been shaken by the bright lights, but she came in and played like a veteran.”
Caleigh Crowell, another senior, scored 11 first-half points, and senior Christiana Bakolas pulled down four defensive rebounds as a guard and helped run the offense throughout the game.

“Courtney and Lauren made the big plays when we needed them to make big plays,” Stevens said. “I think it came down to these seniors have been here before and have been through this type of game. I'm proud of my girls and we're just happy to be going to the Final Four.”