By Zach D'Amico
It was sweet revenge for the Saint Vincent women’s basketball team on Saturday night.
For the first time in program history, the Bearcats won the President’s Athletic Conference Championship with a 70-48 victory against Washington & Jefferson in the Carey Center.
With a 22-point victory, Saint Vincent (23-4) avenged its 63-62 postseason loss to W&J (19-8) in last year’s semifinals in statement fashion.
In his eighth season at the helm of the program, head coach Jimmy Petruska can now add a PAC title to his résumé.
“It’s a surreal experience. The hard work, the dedication, the commitment (of this team) …this win is the result of all that,” Petruska said after seeing his team win the conference championship for the first time.
As conference champions, Saint Vincent clinches an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Division III Championship with first and second round games slated for March 1-2. Pairings will be announced Monday, Feb. 25 at 2:30 p.m. on ncaa.com.
It’s the program’s third trip to the Division III national tournament and the second for Petruska as head coach.
“The players do the work in the class room, in the weight room, in the off season…and they performed tonight. It means so much to bring this (championship) to our school, to our campus and to our administration. Br. Norman and Fr. Myron, they support our program very much and we’re forever grateful for that,” he said.
The Bearcats held a double-digit lead for the majority of the game, trailing only once after W&J made a 3-pointer following the opening tip.
Maria Morgan crossed over her defender and scored a crafty layup to cap a 7-0 run for the Bearcats, making the score 7-3.
After Danielle Parker scored for W&J to cut SVC’s lead to two points at 11-9, the Bearcats closed the quarter on a 13-1 run.
A steal by Bri Van Vokenburg led to a basket by Madison Kollar in transition to extend SVC’s lead to six. With 1:20 left in the first quarter, Paige Montrose assisted Morgan on a step-back 3-pointer to put SVC ahead, 21-10. Kollar converted a three-point play to help SVC to a 24-10 lead after one quarter of play.
The Bearcats picked up right where they left off to begin the second quarter, taking a 29-10 lead after Carlee Kilgus assisted Montrose on a 15-footer around the 7-minute mark. Neither team could hit the mark during a three-minute span until Kayla Slovenec assisted Kilgus with a half-court pass, extending SVC’s lead to 21 points with 3:48 remaining in the half. W&J’s Alie Seto made a 3-pointer as time expired to make the score 38-17 at the half.
Saint Vincent shot 50-percent from the field in the first half and played stifling defense which caused W&J to commit 10 first half turnovers.
“We just wanted to defend the entire game,” Petruska said. “Coach Kurt (Mattern) came back for us on this year’s staff and he brings such an intense desire to defend. And I think that’s just been our commitment all year.”
Kollar scored four points within the first minute of the third quarter as SVC extended its lead to 22 points at 43-21. However, W&J responded with five consecutive points as a 3-pointer by Tori Boalton made the score 43-26 at the 4:30 mark.
That’s when Morgan and Kilgus connected on back-to-back threes to help SVC to a 23-point lead. The Bearcats ended the third quarter ahead of the Presidents by a score of 55-30.
Another three by Kilgus put SVC ahead 66-40 midway through the fourth quarter as the Bearcats cruised to a 22-point victory which sealed the program’s first ever President’s Athletic Conference championship.
SVC had four players score in double-digits as Kollar and Kilgus led the way with 16 points. Morgan added 15, including three trays. Montrose contributed 10 points and nine rebounds.
Petruska commented on his team’s scoring spread.
“I think it’s just the identity of this team. We have so many players who could be a 20 point a game player. But how we play we don’t need them to be that. I think that makes us extremely hard to guard and dangerous,” he said.
Parker and Boalton led W&J with nine points each.
Kilgus, who scored a team-high 21 points against Thiel in the semifinals, averaged 18 points throughout the conference tournament.
“Kilgus was phenomenal. Just an intense desire to succeed on both sides of the ball,” Petruska said.
Morgan, a four-year starter, connected on three trays which helped shift the momentum in SVC’s favor.
“She’s the captain. She’s the spirit and the fight of this team. She bleeds green and gold,” Petruska added.
Morgan commented on how it felt bringing home the PAC title to SVC.
“It was awesome. We’ve been working hard since post season last year. ‘Here we come’ has been our motto all year…it was awesome to finally get that reward that we’ve been looking for all season long. It’s hard to describe,” the senior captain said.
Morgan, too, appreciates her team’s ability to score from a variety of contributors.
“I really would like to know how teams scout us because we have 10 players who come out and score the ball. It’s nice. Other teams have three or four players, we have 17,” she said.