The Red Hawks were down by 2 points with under a minute left in the fourth quarter. Montclair State came roaring out of the gate in the first quarter, but foul trouble enabled Rowan University to take the lead late. The game was on the verge of being an utter heartbreak for a team that fought and gutted their way to the New Jersey Athletic Conference Final.
Then, sophomore Kate Tobie found junior Rachel Krauss in the corner – the same corner that Janitza Aquino hit her game-winning 3-pointer against William Paterson University in the 2014 NJAC Tournament Final. Krauss locked, loaded and nailed the 3-pointer, putting the Red Hawks up 63-62 with 29 seconds remaining, and sent the fans at Panzer Athletic Center into a euphoric frenzy.
“It was amazing,” Krauss said after the game. “The ball was coming at me and I knew I just needed to shoot it. It was the best feeling.”
Krauss’ 3-pointer put Montclair State on top, and then they hit several late free throws to seal their fourth consecutive NJAC championship.
The Red Hawks won the war at Panzer 68-62 over Rowan University, and the victory clinched an automatic bid at the NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball Tournament for Montclair State.
Before the game, Head Coach Karin Harvey said the team would need to “find a way” in order to become NJAC champions. But, it didn’t look like the Red Hawks would need to claw their way to victory after the first quarter. Montclair State jumped out to an early 23-11 lead on the back of Tobie’s dominant first quarter.
Tobie seemed like she had a hand in every basket made in the first quarter. When she wasn’t passing, she was penetrating into the lane and getting layups at the rim. When she wasn’t scoring, she was finding players like sophomore Erica Snow for an open 3-pointer or dishing it off to sophomore Taylor Harmon for an easy bucket at the rim. Tobie finished the first quarter with 7 points, three assists and one steal.
“When it gets to tournament time, you just have to be more aggressive,” Tobie said after the game. “My teammates are relying on me to be more confident and be more of a leader, so I just really know I have to step up.”
Yet, the second quarter was not trouble-free for the Red Hawks. The fouls started to pile up and Krauss, sophomore Katie Sire, sophomore Sage Bennett and freshman Tiarra Dillard were all limited with two personal fouls each.
The fouls forced Harvey to dig deep into her bench and play freshman Kiarra Dillard and sophomore Yazmine Lacey, but the Red Hawks found a way to end the second quarter with a 35-26 lead.
Before the third quarter, Associate Head Coach Courtney Cunningham said, “We need to control momentum. They’re going to go on a run, and we have to stay together and be resilient.”
Montclair State’s foul trouble continued to be a problem in the third quarter. Sire earned her third personal foul just three minutes in, and she didn’t play for the rest of the quarter. It didn’t help that the Red Hawks’ defense slowed down and surrendered easy baskets to Rowan University.
Again, despite all their troubles, the Red Hawks found a way to not let the game get out of hand and took a 48-47 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Red Hawks played tug of war with the Profs, as neither team asserted clear control in the game’s final quarter. Krauss hit a 3-pointer to put the Red Hawks up by four points with just under four minutes to go, but Rowan University took a 62-60 lead with a little over two minutes left in the game.
Rowan University’s Anyssa Sanchez missed two late free throws, potentially giving the Profs a late four point lead. Then, Krauss made them pay. Krauss drained a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Red Hawks up 63-62, and late free throws sealed the victory for Montclair State.
“I think this game was great for all of us,” Snow said after the game. “I mean, last year we were all kind of scared freshmen, but this year, we knew what this game was going to feel like. Experience really helps with that.”
Harvey commented after the game, “Not much went our way. They just kept together no matter what. We were in so much foul trouble. It doesn’t make sense that we won this game. That’s just how special this team is.”
When asked about what this performance says about a team made up mostly of underclassmen, Harvey added with a smile, “I think it says we’re here for a little while.”
The Red Hawks earned their fourth consecutive NJAC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball tournament. Now, Montclair State will face a whole set of new challenges as they try to make their way through March Madness.