Tied 42-42 with 12:09 remaining in the game, the William Smith basketball team went on a 17-6 run in a 5:51 span and held off Vassar College to earn a hard-fought 69-58 victory in the semifinals of the Liberty League Championship Tournament at the Athletics & Fitness Center tonight.
Seeded fourth in the tournament, the Heron victory ended the top-seeded Brewers’ hopes for a third straight conference crown. The Herons (17-9) advance to Saturday’s title title at No. 2 St. Lawrence, a 58-44 winner over No. 3 Skidmore.
It was the 5:51 snippet of action that changed the course of the game. A single free throw by Vassar junior Cydni Matsuoka tied the contest at 42-42, but the Herons scored six straight points, four coming from sophomore Molly Breen, for a 48-42 lead with 11:14 to play. The Brewers were able to draw within 48-45 on a 3-pointer by Hannah Senftleber with 8:55 remaining.
Led by the play of senior Sydni Salvatore, the Herons went on an 11-2 spurt for a 59-47 lead. Salvatore had five points running the run, including a traditional 3-point play. A Matsuoka layup at the 1:59 mark made it a six-point game, 60-54, but junior Jacqueline Murphy made a layup and Salvatore sank two free throws to stretch the lead out to 10 with 78 seconds left. William Smith made five of six free throws in the final minute to close out the victory.
In the first half, the Herons came out with a purpose and held two nine-point leads, but behind the play of sophomore Colleen O’Connell, the Brewers took a 19-10 deficit at the 13:19 mark and went on a 15-3 run to take a 25-21 lead. O’Connell had eight straight points in that span, and 12 points in the first half. The teams played a one-possession game over the final five minutes of the half. After Salvatore scored the final four points of the half at the line, William Smith went into halftime with a 30-28 lead, largely without the help of leading scorer Chloe Hayter, who sat out the final 11:13 of the half in foul trouble.
An O’Connell basket to open the second half tied the contest at 30-30. Hayter proceeded to score William Smith’s first nine points that gave the Herons a 35-30 lead. Matsuoka was keen to the task, though, and matched Hayter, scoring five points herself to keep the contest tight.
Vassar’s last lead came at the 12:42 mark when a driving layup by freshman guard Alex Moon put the Brewers ahead 42-41.
Salvatore had 19 points for William Smith, going 9 of 11 from the free throw line. She logged her third career double-double with a team-high 10 rebounds. Hayter had 15 points, including 11 after the intermission, and grabbed seven boards.
O’Connell led Vassar with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Matsuoka added 16 points and Moon dropped in 10 points.
The Liberty League Championship game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. tipoff in Canton. William Smith is seeking its first Liberty League tournament title since winning consecutive crowns in 2005 and 2006.