NEWMAC Semifinals: Smith College basketball downs Springfield to reach 3rd straight final


Staff writer

Published: 02-24-2023 10:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Not content with back-to-back titles, the Smith basketball team is going for the trifecta.

For the third straight year, the Pioneers (25-1) punched their ticket to the NEWMAC championship with a 61-49 win over Springfield College. Morgan Morrison picked up a double double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Amelia Clairmont went off in the fourth quarter to finish with 15 points and three steals. Ally Yamada finished with 11 points and Katelyn Pickunka had eight boards and four assists. The win also extended their 19-game win streak.

Smith will face No. 2 Babson at Ainsworth Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon, with tip-off at 1 p.m. It will be a rematch of last year’s title match, which Smith took 68-46 in their home gym.

“It’s just super exciting,” Jessie Ruffner said on the return to the title game. “It’s obviously something that we’re going to be expecting in years to come and something we’re striving to do...We’re hungry for more and we want to get this to prove a point in the conference and then we want to prove a point and go into the NCAAs.”

Smith is focused on taking things one game at a time, and they’ll obviously be locked in for the title game on Sunday. But head coach Lynn Hersey is also focused on the big picture – beyond the NEWMAC tournament is the NCAA tourney, which Smith is poised to make a splash at this year.

“It’s hard to beat a team three times, especially a good team like Springfield, and we had control of the game from minute one to minute 40. So I applaud our crew for that,” Hersey said. “We’re always looking for the big picture too and the ways that we’re improving ourselves game to game, because ultimately that’s how you can make it deeper in the NCAA tournament.”

The Pioneers blew the doors off the gym with an 8-0 lead in the opening three minutes, forcing a Springfield timeout at the 7:14 mark. Springfield responded after their timeout, but there was no stopping Smith, who answered back with a Dashelle Gleissner layup and a triple from Yamada right off the bench.

By the end of the first, Smith had a 21-10 lead, but more impressive than the scoreboard was their rebounding. The Pioneers out-rebounded the Pride 15-4 in the opening frame, and that was crucial to their early lead - 12 of their points in the first quarter were from the paint, and nine of them were second-chance points.

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“Yesterday we talked about rebounding a lot,” Ruffner said.  “I really think that rebounds are what fueled us, we wanted to get a big lead in the first half.” 

The second period was much more even, with the teams dueling back and forth. Springfield went on a short 5-0 run after a Jessie Ruffner layup opened the frame, but from there the two teams dueled evenly, each dropping 15 points in the second frame. Ally Yamada kept riding her hot hand, sinking three of her four triple chances, and Morgan Morrison casually picked up 13 points and seven rebounds in the first half alone. 

Smith went into halftime riding a 36-25 lead. Angela Czeremcha and Sam Hourihan had nine and six points, respectively, for the Pride, while Hourihan led the team with five boards, but Springfield had been relying heavily on that duo in the first half. 

The third quarter slowed down for both teams, with Smith just barely outscoring Springfield 11-10. Springfield pulled to within nine points of the Pioneers with 41 seconds to go, but a Gleissner triple with 30 seconds to go gave Smith a 47-35 lead heading into the final frame. 

Clairmont exploded in the fourth quarter for the Pioneers, knocking down a layup and then back to back threes to force a Springfield timeout at the 6:14 mark with Smith up 55-40.

“The crowd was energized. I knew that we couldn't let them down and we needed to play our best to get to the championship,” Clairmont said on her hot shooting streak. “Sometimes it's hard to recognize (how well you’re shooting) in the game because you’re so locked in and you're just in the moment. Even after you make a bucket you need to get back and play defense.”

Ruffner added a pair of buckets late and the Pioneers defense shut down Springfield in the final minutes to pick up the win.