Muhlenberg College

Allentown, Pa.
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Sunday, February 26, 2006
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ON PAGE 2 ... A near-championship for WOMEN’S TRACK and FIELD

Women’s Basketball Wins First Title Since 1998

Conference Champions! The Muhlenberg women’s basketball team scored the final six points of the game, five by freshman Lauren Boyle, to defeat Johns Hopkins, 55-50, in the Centennial Conference championship game.

The win gave the 15th-ranked Mules (25-2) their third CC title (first since 1998) and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Pairings are scheduled to be announced Monday morning and will be posted on the Web site as soon as they are available.

“I’m overwhelmed, ” said senior center Michelle Hirst, who hit a key free throw in the last minute. “I can’t really put it into words. To know the potential of this team, and to finally do it, it’s just amazing.”

Amazing also describes the ability of Muhlenberg to win close games. For the fourth time in the last 11 days, the Mules made all the big plays down the stretch to pull out a win by five points or less.

Muhlenberg squandered an early 11-point lead by going more than nine minutes without a field goal against a Blue Jay team that came in ranked fourth in the NCAA in field-goal percentage defense. Trailing 27-25, the
Sam Tager
Sam Tager is one of seven seniors who, with a record of 72-32, are now the winningest class in Muhlenberg women’s basketball history. The classes of 1999 and 2004 both won 71 games in their four years.
Mules took over following a shot-clock violation with 24 seconds left in the half. Boyle nailed a jumper with three seconds left to tie the score, and senior Kristen Piscadlo stole the inbounds pass and beat the buzzer to give Muhlenberg a 29-27 lead at the break.

The second half featured six ties and six lead changes. Hopkins (20-7) took its biggest lead, at 38-33, with 13:45 to play. Muhlenberg came back and scored the next seven points, and neither team led by more than three points again until the final minute.

The Blue Jays scored their final points with 1:20 remaining to take a 50-49 lead. On the Mules’ next possession, Boyle drilled a line-drive jumper from the top of the key with 52 seconds left. Hopkins got two shots to take the lead and missed both, with Hirst fighting to grab the rebound after the second. She was fouled immediately with 25 seconds on the clock, and the Blue Jays called timeout to ice her.

“What got me to relax was thinking about four years of shooting free throws every day at practice,” said Hirst, a 55.6-percent shooter from the line. “I didn’t even think about the game situation. I thought, this is practice, and I’m going to do what I do every single day.”

Hirst did just that, making the front end of the one-and-one to give Muhlenberg a 52-50 lead. She missed the second, and on the rebound a Blue
Stephanie Coluccini
Coluccini’s double-double was the fifth of her career.
Jay player kept possession by calling a timeout as she was falling out of bounds.

Hopkins missed three cracks to tie the game on its possession, and the ball was batted out of bounds to the Mules with 2.3 seconds left. The Blue Jays called their last timeout, then fouled Boyle on the inbounds pass. After she made the first of two shots, Hopkins called another timeout – which it didn’t have. The technical foul gave Boyle two more free throws to clinch the game, and she made two of her remaining three.

The championship capped a remarkable comeback for the Mules, a perennial playoff team until last year, when they dropped 13 of their final 17 games to finish at 11-14. Picked sixth in the CC preseason poll, they committed themselves to returning the program to its previous level – and then some.

“Sometimes you have to go through tough times to know the good times,” reflected Hirst. “At this moment, I can see that [last year] got us doing everything right. It made us really mentally tough this year, and at tough times on the court that has pulled us through every game.”

It also helped to add Boyle, a clutch freshman whose late baskets seem to be at the heart of every close win. She scored a team-high 16 points in the championship game.

“As seniors, [Lauren] is sort of a gift that has been given to us,” said Hirst. “She has incredible heart and a maturity that I’ve never seen in a freshman.”

Senior Stephanie Coluccini also played a big role in a game in which Muhlenberg’s leading scorer was held in check, notching her first double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

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Last updated February 26, 2006