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Owl Women Defeat Panthers in ECAC Basketball Championship

KEENE, N.H., 3/7/10 - The top-seeded Keene State College women’s basketball team had to work overtime to defeat rival and sixth-seed Plymouth State University 69-68 and capture its first ECAC Division III New England Tournament Championship on Sunday. But no one was complaining, especially Keene State’s five seniors, who got to finish their careers at home with the regional title.

“This is just an amazing feeling. The five seniors worked so hard,” said senior Kristin Degou (Newburyport, Mass.), who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. It’s a great culmination to our careers.

“Not too many players get to end their careers on their home court, so this is awesome,” said senior Alyssa Sapp (Hartford, Vt.). “I can’t imagine ending my career any other way other than a national championship,” said senior Jen Cleaveland (Newington, Conn.), who had five points and nine rebounds. “I’m just so excited that we could do something so special.”

Forward Nicole Simmler (Oxford, Mass.) and point guard Celeste Veilleux (Burlington, Vt.), both starters, round out the list of KSC seniors who were playing in their final game at Keene State on Sunday.

Keene State (20-9), posted its third 20-win season in the past four years.

Despite unseasonably warm temperatures outside, the crowd of 656 fans were glued to the seats inside Spaulding Gym for the back-and-fourth game that was reminiscent of past battles between the two rivals. The outcome wasn’t decided until the closing seconds of the extra period. Plymouth State took a three- point lead (68-65) after freshman guard Colleen O’Hara (Otego, N.Y.) hit a three-pointer in front of the Panther’s bench with 2:51 to go.

KSC sophomore guard Sara Laudano (North Haven, Conn.) hit one of two free throws to make it a two-point game.

After PSU missed a pair of free throws, KSC got the ball back with under a minute to play. Laudano tied the game with a jumper just to the right of the lane with 41 seconds to go. “The three wasn’t there, so I just stepped in and took the shot,” said Laudano, who finished with 16 points. “I’ve been working on my pull-ups, so I was lucky enough to hit it.”

Following a missed Panther shot, Degou was sent to the line after being fouled in the rebound action. With 11 seconds to play, the senior missed her first shot, but swished her second attempt to give KSC the 69-68 lead. “I was really mad at myself for missing the first one. On the second one I said, ‘I’m going to make this one for my dad,’ because he’s been with me ever since I picked up a ball, and I did it for him,” said Degou.

The Panthers had a chance to tie or win the game in the closing seconds, but the Owls were awarded the ball on the possession arrow after senior Jen Cleaveland and PSU sophomore forward Alicia Doucet (Manchester, N.H.) battled for the ball following a missed shot. Degou took the inbounds pass from Sapp and threw the ball in the air as time expired.

The Panthers jumped out to an early 11-4 lead on a three-pointer by Doucet.

Keene State went a on 19-4 run, capped off by a top-of-the-key three-pointer by Degou to go up 23-17 with 5:14 to play in the first half. Doucet was the story for PSU in the first half. She scored 19 of her game-high 29 points; including a lay up in the closing seconds to give Plymouth a 29-24 lead at the break.

Looking to pull ahead, both teams had eight-point runs in the second half. After the Panthers went up 42-34, KSC answered with eight-straight points to tie the game at 42-all with 8:35 to play.

The two teams traded baskets the rest of the way. Sophomore forward Courtney Cirillo (Windsor Locks, Conn.), who finished with her second double-double (14 points and 13 rebounds) in as many days, hit a pair of free throws to put KSC ahead 62-61 with a minute to play in regulation. With 23 seconds to go, Sapp added another free throw to make it 63-61.

Senior forward Laura Kent (Bellingham, Mass.) sent the game into overtime when she hit a lay up with three seconds in regulation play. That set the stage for the wild overtime period.

PSU entered the game after upsetting third-seed Endicott (70-59) and second- seed Regis (72-65). “You can never go by how a team is seeded,” said Cleaveland. “We knew Plymouth was a good team.” Laudano was happy to see her senior teammates go out as champions. “They worked hard the past four years and really deserve this championship. I’m thrilled that we were able to go out and help them complete their careers in style.”

Degou finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks. Sapp chipped in with 15 points and six assists.

Doucet, who was 10 for 11 from the line, had eight rebounds, three assists, and four blocks to go with her 29 points. Senior guard Katie Sunderland (Londonderry, N.H.) added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Panthers, who conclude their season with a 17-11 record.

Two Plymouth seniors came up short in their bid to score 1,000 career points. Kent, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, ends her career with 990 points. Forward Amanda Kania (Manchester, N.H.), who fouled out late in regulation, had seven points and nine rebounds, also giving her 990 career points.

Keene State was making its fifth appearance in the ECAC tournament, while Plymouth State has been to the tournament eight times, winning back-to-back crowns in 2002 and 2003.

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Keene, New Hampshire 03435