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Sea-Hawks nearly capped off Cinderella-like run in AUS basketball playoffs
They didn’t have one more upset in their kit bag.
The Memorial Sea-Hawks fell 84-74 to the Acadia Axewomen in Halifax Sunday in the 2019 Atlantic University Sport women’s basketball championship game.
Had the Sea-Hawks won, it would been at the very least an eye-opener, and at the most, the final chapter in a story that ends with somebody trying on a glass slipper that fits.
Memorial entered the AUS tourney as the fifth seed and with a sub-.500 regular-season record (9-11). But the Sea-Hawks downed fourth-seed UNB 79-90 Friday and followed up with a 90-82 Saturday semifinal victory over the top-seeded Cape Breton Capers.
Before Saturday, the nationally-ranked Capers had lost only two of their 20 games this season.
That put Memorial in its first conference final since 2008 (when they won it all) and set up the match with the Axewomen, who were the defending conference champs. However, as the third seeds, Acadia also had to take the longer route to the big game; the Axewomen downed Dalhousie in the quarter-finals before dispatching the second-seeded UPEI Panthers in the semifinals. Both Cape Breton and UPEI had earned byes through the quarter-finals.
“I’m extremely proud of those girls. We came in with an under-.500 record, but they put that behind them and put it all out there this weekend,” said Memorial head coach Mark English.
“The final obviously wasn’t what we wanted, but I’m feeling a lot pride right now, no matter what the result was (Sunday).”
The Axewomen had split their regular-season series with the Sea-Hawks, and there was some back and forth in the first half of Sunday’s game at the Scotiabank Centre.
Memorial led 12-6 early in the contest, and after Acadia tied it up, the Lady Hawks moved back in front and held the lead as midway through the second quarter. But the defending champs went on a 23-3 run to close out the first half and remained in front the rest of the way, even after being outscored 29-12 in the fourth quarter.
“I had called a timeout (late in the third quarter with the Axewomen leading by 21) and told them to keep their heads high,” said English. “It’s easy to give up in those situations and I asked them not to, and they didn’t. They kept chipping away and didn’t back down until the buzzer.
“Like I said, it wasn’t the result we were looking for, but they battled through to the end, and that’s worth remembering, too.”
Sydney Stewart, who led Memorial in scoring all three playoff games, had 19 points in her last collegiate contest. Stewart was named a tournament all-star after totalling 73 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in the three playoff outings. That included 33 against Cape Breton.
Guard Sydney Ezekiel, another graduating Sea-Hawk, also averaged better than 20 points in Halifax, with 62 in all, including 13 against Acadia. Ezekiel was also named to the tourney’s all-star squad.
Haille Nickerson came off the bench to also sink 13 points Sunday as English made far more use of his non-starters than he had in the previous two games.
Still, the playoffs were very much about Memorial’s veterans, including post Brooklyn Wright and forward Rosie Stanoev, two other fifth-players.
Wright had 15 points against Cape Breton and while Stanoev didn’t score much, she had a crucial 11 rebounds versus UNB.
“Those four (seniors) put in a lot of work over the last number of years and they became some of the top players in the league,” said English. “We were on the bad end of some close losses during the season, losing by one or two points, but they figured it out this weekend and got us to the Sunday game.
“Those girls are incredible and we’re going to miss them incredibly. They will be tough to replace, but by helping getting us this far, they helped provide players like Jane Baird, Haille Nickerson, Alana Short, Cameron Longley with valuable minutes and valuable experience to take into next year.”
Tournament MVP Hayley McDonald had a game high 29 points for Acadia Sunday, while conference rookie of the year Jayda Veinot, the player of the game in the final, added 27.
The Axewomen move on as the AUS’s lone representative at next weekend’s U Sports Final 8 national women’s championship in Toronto.
Sea-Hawks men's squad loses in quarter-finals
The women’s AUS hoops championship in Halifax was held in conjunction with the conference men’s tournament.
Memorial entered that competition as the sixth seed, and the Sea-Hawks were defeated 83-59 Friday night by No. 3 Dalhousie.
Nathan Barker finished had a game-high 19 points in the game for the Sea-Hawks, who carried a roster of players all who have at least two years of varsity eligibility remaining.