WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Eastern Connecticut State University owned the third quarter of its first 26 games this year. Game No. 27 was no exception.
With top-seeded Eastern (20-8) trailing by eight points at halftime of its Little East Conference semifinal game to fourth-seeded Western Connecticut State University (15-12) Saturday evening at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium, the Warriors limited the Colonials to eight third-quarter points on the way to a 58-52 win which vaulted them into their third straight championship game appearance.
Eastern looks for its third straight LEC championship Sunday when it hosts Keene State College (20-7) in the 2 p.m. title game at Geissler Gymnasium. The second-seeded Owls eliminated third-seed Massachusetts Dartmouth, 66-61, in Saturday's second semifinal.
The teams are meeting in the final of the 31st annual tournament for the first time. Eastern is 5-11 in championship games (10 of the losses to the University of Southern Maine). Keene looks for its first title in its third appearance, having lost twice to Southern Maine (2005, '07). Since losing to visiting Eastern, 63-62, Keene has won its last nine, among the triumphs an 80-51 rout of the Warriors at Geissler Gym ten days ago.
In Saturday's third quarter, Eastern outscored Western 7-0 from the foul line and held the Colonials to 19.0 percent shooting. Eastern was 7-of-10 from the stripe in the quarter and was whistled for only two fouls, which kept Western from attempting one. In the game, Eastern was 21-of-33 from the stripe, Western 8-of-10. Eastern, ranked second in the LEC in field goal percentage held Western to 28.4 percent shooting from the floor for the game.
Holding to a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter, Eastern got seven points from junior guard Kelly Reardon (Holyoke, MA), who was 3-of-3 from the floor, and held Western to 23.1 percent shooting.
Reardon led all players with a career-high 14 points for Eastern to go along with five rebounds and three assists. Eastern also received double digit scoring from sophomore forward Kelsey Santagata (Stamford) and freshman forward Mya Villard (Cromwell), who each had 10 points. Santagata was making her first start in nearly a month and Villard her first appearance off the bench in that same span.
Eastern outscored Western, 13-2, in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter to move out to a 54-46 advantage with three minutes left. Reardon scored five in a rown and seven of the last nine in that scoring burst, hitting a jumper, three-point field goal and layup.
The tournament win is the eighth straight for Eastern – all at Geissler Gymnasium – over a three-year period, and eighth straight overall over Western. This year's three victories over the Colonials came by a total of 13 points and mark the first three-game season sweep of Western in 21 years.
Western was led by junior guard Kaitlyn LaBonte with 12 points, but the rest of the starting lineup managed only 15 points 13 rebounds. Senior forward Alyssa Eannotti played 28 minutes off the bench and recorded a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Senior guard Samantha Smith had ten points off the bench.