Montclair State was down 3 points. With 6.9 seconds remaining, the women’s basketball team had no opportunity to advance the ball because they were out of timeouts. Sophomore guard Kate Tobie pushed the ball up the court, and junior guard Zoey Curtis found sophomore forward Katie Sire. Standing at least a foot behind the three-point line, Sire drained the shot as the shot clock expired to send the game into overtime.
Panzer Athletic Center erupted in jubilation, and the Red Hawks stormed the court and embraced one another. But, the game wasn’t over. Montclair State still had to play another five minutes before there was any final result.
The Red Hawks surrendered two easy layups in the paint, and Albright College took a 62-58 lead. Sire drove into the lane and tied the game at 64 with under a minute to go, but Montclair State was never able to take the lead. The Red Hawks ultimately lost 69-66 in overtime and were officially eliminated from the NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball Tournament.
“It’s obviously disappointing, being that our season is over and we had so much potential to win this game,” Sire said after the game. “We played hard. We played as hard as we could. We knew we were the underdogs coming in, and we gave it our all.”
The Red Hawks survived their previous game against SUNY Polytechnic, and they had to overcome Albright College, the no. 9 ranked team in the country, to advance into the next round. Yet, Montclair State only shot 55 percent from the free throw line and put themselves in a hole early.
Montclair State looked timid and intimidated in the first quarter. Junior Rachel Krauss, the Red Hawks’ most lethal three-point shooter, passed on multiple opportunities to shoot and held the ball instead. Tobie had three turnovers and was out of rhythm on offense. The team only shot 30.8 percent from the field and trailed Albright College 14-9 heading into the second quarter.
The Red Hawks offense continued to fall flat in the second quarter. The ball was stuck on the perimeter, and Montclair State’s players still looked afraid to shoot. They watched as shots went up in the air and let Albright College pull down rebounds on the offensive and defensive glass.
But, Sire ignited a 8-2 run over the last three minutes of the quarter, and the Red Hawks seemed to get their groove back. Despite their early struggles, Montclair State was able to trim the deficit to one and go into halftime down 22-21.
“We go through periods where we struggle to score for a little bit. The first half was that – we struggled to score,” Head Coach Karin Harvey said to reporters after the game.
The Red Hawks looked alive and played with a renewed sense of confidence to open the second half. Krauss, who only scored 2 points in the first half, drained three consecutive 3-pointers and put Montclair State up 32-27 in the third quarter.
Sophomore forward Taylor Harmon put together a string of dominant play late in the quarter. Harmon nailed a 3-pointer, used a series of powerful post moves, drove to the basket and dished it off to Sire for an easy bucket at the rim.
“I just came in and played hard,” Harmon said after the game.
The Red Hawks led 41-36 after the third quarter, and Harmon parlayed her third quarter performance into an equally successful fourth quarter.
Even with Harmon’s efforts, neither team was able to take firm control of the game. Montclair State barely held onto the lead, but Albright College was able to come back and go up 50-46 with 3:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Sire then hit a 3-pointer with time expiring the send the game into overtime, but the Red Hawks were unable to capitalize. They surrendered easy layups at the rim, and eventually lost after Krauss unsuccessfully heaved a three-pointer as time expired.
“[Montclair State] has been there,” Albright College Head Coach Janice Luck said after the game, referring to Montclair State’s previous NCAA Tournament experience. “It was a battle. It could have been anybody’s game.”
“We’re close. We’re close to being a great basketball team. We have all of the pieces, but we need to be a little better in certain areas,” Harvey said after the game. “Our run wasn’t as far, but from where we started and where we ended up, it’s a credit to how hard [the players] work and how dedicated they are. I’m really proud of them.”
The Red Hawks’ season ended in heartbreak, but there’s much to look forward to for next season. This same team that competed in the tournament will all be back next year, and they’ll be back with an extra year of experience. Senior Kayla Ceballos, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury, might be able to return next year if she regains her eligibility.
The women’s basketball team’s season is over, but they have the off-season to improve and potentially make a further run in the NCAA DIII Tournament next season.