Sea-Hawks nab second straight AUS title; seventh in team history
Members of the Memorial Sea-Hawks women's team proudly display their AUS championship banner. Photo by Nick Pearce
Wolfville, N.S. - Memorial Sea-Hawks' reign as Atlantic universities women's basketball champions looked to be slipping away early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's final against Cape Breton Capers at the Acadia University gym.
That's when their true colors started to show.
The Sea-Hawks dug deep and pulled off a thrilling 64-61 victory that had the fans on the edge of their seat until the final seconds of the evenly-played match.
The Sea-Hawks, who won bronze at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship last year in St. John's, will head to the nationals in Saskatchewan Tuesday.
Down by seven points early in the fourth quarter and just having tossed the ball away, coach Doug Partridge called a time out.
Clearly, if Memorial was going to make a comeback and earn another shot at a national title, this was the time to make their stand.
This is where the summer workouts and difficult fall practices would have to pay off because, as recent history has shown, when you push the Sea-Hawks to the limit, their tendency is to soar.
When the Capers put the ball in play following a MUN timeout, Vicki Thistle stole it and scored. Then MUN's pressure began to produce more steals and turnovers and pretty soon they also started making shots they were missing in the first half.
Suddenly, it was the Capers who were scrambling to compete. The tide had turned and there was no turning back.
MUN's Leslie Stewart developed a hot hand and Cape Breton, which minutes earlier looked to have the momentum, couldn't keep pace.
"Being a veteran team helps us to play well in pressure situations," said Stewart who led the Sea-Hawks with 19 points.
"We put so much work in fitness-wise in the fall it paid off in the fourth quarter and that was our advantage over Cape Breton because they weren't able to do that," said Stewart, who hasn't made up her mind if she'll return next year, although it seems doubtful she'll be back.
Katherine Quackenbush put the Lady Hawks ahead to stay with 45 seconds left with a clutch basket which seemed to rally the troops.
"I'd been missing a lot earlier in the game," said Quackenbush. "So when I got the ball in my hands, I just said 'focus' and fired it up and it went in," added the tournament's most valuable player, who went 4-for-15 from field goal range, but, like many of the Sea-Hawks, stepped up when it counted the most.
The AUS MVP, best defensive player and first-team all-star, finished with nine points, five rebounds and three assists.
Vicki Thistle who also struggled with her shooting at times, finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals and was named a tournament all-star.
"We wanted this so bad that even when we were down by seven, we knew we could come back," said Thistle. "We've always believed in ourselves."
Paula Barker gave MUN an initial spark by hitting back-to-back three-pointers to start the game.
"They (Cape Breton) were giving me a little space and our girls got me some open shots and I was able to knock them down," said Barker, who also netted her team's last point on a free throw with seven seconds to play for the final score.
In between those points, the exciting contest took many twists and turns.
The teams were tied 34-34 at the half and Cape Breton seemed to have gained the upper hand in the third quarter by outscoring MUN 13-8. But the Sea-Hawks, as they usually do, found a way to win.
The way was a remarkable late-pressure game that shredded the Capers' confidence and had Cape Breton coach Fabian McKenzie screaming at his players during a timeout.
Partridge said the decision to go with an in-your-face pressure game was in his back pocket all day and he was waiting for a time he felt it was needed.
He decided to bench regular starter Maegan Seaward in the fourth quarter and go with a quicker, more athletic five.
It worked to perfection.
The MUN coach said Seaward, instead of sulking on the bench, "cheered her butt off" for her teammates on the floor.
"The idea," Partridge said about the move, "was to really get after them (Capers) and, certainly, the girls responded."
The championship was the Sea-Hawks third in four years and fifth in seven years. The team has won seven championships overall, all under Partridge's guidance.