WORCESTER, Mass. – Senior Kierra McCarthy scored 22 points and classmate and tournament MVP Lucy Barrett added 20 more as Westfield State rallied from a 12-point deficit to win the 2019 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament championship game, 84-73 over top seeded Worcester State at the Brissette Court on Saturday.
With the win, the Owls claim their fourth straight MASCAC title and will earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament when the field is announced on Monday.
Westfield improves to 18-9 overall, while Worcester drops to 20-7.
"Worcester is so, so talented," said Bertini. "But we had so much fight in the second half and so much determination and made some big shots."
The Owls trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, and were down 35-26 at the half.
Westfield exploded for 30 points in the third quarter.
The Owls hit back to back threes to open the second half, and trimmed the lead to three 50-47 on an Isabella Aitken three, then tied it at 54-all on a Barrett run out layup late in the quarter. Westfield found its shooting touch from long range, connecting on 5 of 10 three pointers in the period, including a pair from Aitken.
"When Bella got her chance today, and we needed her, she banged down three shots, like huge," said Bertini.
Worcester led 57-56 going into the 4th quarter.
A layup by senior guard Allison Hester, followed by a Hester steal and layup gave the Owls a 64-61 with 8:06 left in the game to give the Owls their first lead since the first quarter.
"We knew we had to start off with some fire," said Hester. "We needed to tighten down on defense . . . and our defense carries over into offense. I just wanted the ball, and I wanted us to get more points than they did. So whatever I could do to contribute. I was just in the zone."
A Chelsea Moussette steal and a Barrett three-point play with 5:10 to play gave Westfield a 73-67 advantage, then a McCarthy three point bomb put the Owls up 76-69. McCarthy stole the ball on the next possession to force a Worcester time out with 3:12 left. Another McCarthy 3 with 2:05 put the Owls up 79-71.
"Kierra had a couple of huge threes, Lucy with some drives. Ally Hester made some huge plays," said Bertini. "We really played as hard as we could possibly play and whatever happens happens, and we got back in the game."
"We played with 10 the entire second half, all shooters, so they couldn't sag into the paint like they had been doing, and we hit some shots. They had to come out and cover us, and then we could get to the basket, and we got a ton of rebounds, and when you play a team that big, that's just all effort."
"I missed the first one, and the next one I thought 'I am way too open to let this one go' … I need to shoot I'm way too open and I shot it and made it," said McCarthy about the late three pointers. "And on the next one I didn't even think, I just shot it. It was nice at that time as it gave us an extra lead, and kept it comfortable."
The Owls played in front of a sizeable crowd of more than 800, but Westfield State's families and fans comprised nearly half of that crowd.
"The crowd was incredible, it didn't feel like we were in an away gym," said Barrett. "It's incredible what that can do, when every possession they were getting into it , and we just took it to them and never let up."
Barrett hit three of four free throws in the closing minutes to help put the game away, though her streak of 27 straight free throws made was broken.
Barrett finished with 20 points and six rebounds despite rolling an ankle in the first quarter. She scored 27 points in the Owls semifinal round win en route to tournament MVP Honors.
"I was very surprised," to get the MVP award, said Barrett. "It was bittersweet to get it senior year. All I wanted coming in here was a championship. I don't care how the job got done. I didn't care who was the one scoring the points or getting the boards, I just wanted a championship and a wanted a four-peat with Ally and Kierra. The three of us have been through so much over four years, we just wanted it so badly. Getting the MVP was very humbling, and awesome but it was a team win, and I couldn't have done that without my teammates."
McCarthy scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds and three steals. The Owls got supporting scoring from Aitken, who netted a career best nine in the biggest game of her collegiate career, and eight from senior guard Hester.
Kate Suprenant, led Worcester with 17 points, Kaitlyn Berkel added 16, and the Owls limited 6-1 Lancers center Brittany Herring to 11 points and 10 rebounds after the post player went for 32 and 15 in the previous meeting between the two teams.
Worcester State grabbed a 21-15 lead at the end of the first quarter, closing the half with a 7-2 spurt in the final 2:32. The Owls shooting woes at the Brissette Court continued, just 5-20 in the opening frame and 1-11 from three point range.
Worcester State led 35-26 at the half behind 10 points each from Surprenant, Berkel and Cutting. The Lancers built the lead to as many as 12 on several occasions, but a three pointer from the Owls' Aitken with 16 seconds left trimmed the lead down to nine at the break.
The Owls forced the Lancers into 13 turnovers in the half, but committed 10 of their own. McCarthy led Westfield at the half with seven points.
"I think that first half we were frantic were not used to playing (the championship game) in a different gym," said Barrett. "They were making it very difficult. They are a very good defensive team and we were settling for shots that we don't usually settle for. We weren't getting aour good looks, or passing, cutting, and screening away."
"We were so much more intense" in the second half, said McCarthy. "I think that because of how the last games went we were so packed down low, it was their guards who were shooting. We really picked up the intensity and started going for steals like we know how to do and started getting more transition points."
"I can't even believe it," said McCarthy about the tournament championship four-peat. "There was a lot of pressure coming in today – how do you win three and not win your senior year? It definitely shows our character as a group. We don't have any height, I'm practically the tallest one, and (Worcester) is so tall down there, shows how much heart and intensity that we have that we could rebound with them and steal the ball, and we could win against them."
Barrett and McCarthy have combined for 2,552 career points, the most by any pair of classmates in Owls history. Combined with Hester, the trio has tallied over 3,100 points for Westfield.
"The seniors - I've never had a group that," said Bertini. "I'm going to sound like Calipari – they just refused to lose. They come out, they play hard, they don't get rattled. They walked into this gym and they were ready to go. They're the toughest minded – with such effort, such enthusiasm and play so hard and play for each other. It's an amazing senior class."
Westfield will earn their seventh NCAA tourney bid and fifth under 14th year head coach Andrea Bertini '96 which will be announced on Monday.