WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – After finishing three games under .500 a year ago, the Eastern Connecticut State University women’s basketball team faces Johns Hopkins University in its 17th NCAA Division III tournament appearance Friday at 5 p.m. at the John J. Long Center on the campus of the University of Scranton.
Eastern (19-8), making its fourth NCAA appearance in the last five years, was one of 43 teams to qualify for the 64-team field as a conference champion, while Johns Hopkins (22-4) was named on an at-large basis after losing in the semifinals of the Centennial Conference.
In Friday’s nightcap, 32-time NCAA qualifier Scranton (25-2) faces New England College (19-9) at 7 p.m. Scranton won the Landmark Conference and New England College the New England Collegiate Conference. Friday’s winners meet Saturday at 6 p.m., with the survivor moving on to a sectional tournament in the Round of 16.
Eastern and Johns Hopkins will be meeting on the hardwood for the first time. The Warriors are 1-4 all-time against Scranton, but upended the host Lady Royals, 50-48, in the first round of the NCAA en route to winning the regional and earning a berth in the sectional tournament in 2014/15. Eastern is 1-0 all-time against New England College.
In its last NCAA tournament appearance two years ago, Eastern also played at Scranton, dropping an opening 80-72 decision to SUNY Poly.
In the final regional rankings through games of Feb. 17, Eastern was ranked 11th in the Northeast, Scranton first and Johns Hopkins fourth, respectively, in the Mid-Atlantic. NEC was unranked in the Northeast.
In a 77-72 overtime win over No. 1 seed in the Little East final Saturday that gave the Warriors a season-high six-game winning streak, Eastern started three freshmen in forward Anna Barry (Andover) and guards Jenna Serrantino (Cromwell) and Julie Keckler (Trumbull), along with junior forward Mya Villard (Cromwell) and junior guard Sabrina LeMere (North Branford). Kelsey Santagata (Stamford), the team’s only senior, comes off the bench in the frontcourt and juniors Julie Jordan (Sterling) and Lizzy Cretella (Cheshire) in the backcourt.
Villard had 27 points and 17 rebounds in the championship game against UMass Dartmouth and was named tournament MVP. She averages 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. As a starter over the last 11 games, the six-foot Barry averages 11.6 points and 6.8 rebounds with a 61.2 field goal percentage and 17 blocked shots.
As an 11-time NCAA qualifier, Johns Hopkins had a nine-game winning streak ended by Haverford College in the Centennial Conference semifinals. Two of the Blue Jays’ losses have come at the hands of nationally-ranked Gettysburg College, which lost to Haverford in the Centennial finals. The Blue Jays feature ten freshmen and seniors on their roster. They are led by senior guard Lillian Scott (17.4) and 6-foot-2 inch senior post player Rory Cole (10.0 rpg.)
The national semifinals and final will be held March 8-9 at Roanoke College’s Cregger Center in Salem, VA.