The CCRI women’s basketball team never forgot about last year’s district tournament, when it missed out on a trip to nationals with a disappointing loss. The mantra “unfinished business” even ended up on a team t-shirt.
On Saturday, the Lady Knights finished it.
Back in the district tournament in Radnor, Pa., the top-seeded Lady Knights surged past Delaware Tech 73-49 to punch their ticket to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament in Peoria, Ill.
“We talked about how we were in the same position last year – we beat the Monroe for the region championship, we were the No. 1 seed,” said CCRI head coach Kate Lynch. “We didn’t want to leave with the same feeling.”
While the Lady Knights lost to Monroe in the district title game on Sunday, the victory Saturday had already secured the nationals berth. The Lady Knights will practice all week and then head to Illinois on Sunday. They’ll open play on Tuesday. It’s the program’s first trip to nationals since 2009.
“We’re excited,” Lynch said. “The sophomores didn’t want to feel what they felt last year. They worked hard and they deserve to be there.”
The Lady Knights have been ranked as high as No. 8 in national polls this season. Fresh off a victory in the region championship, they were ranked 13th heading into the district tournament.
Knowing what happened last year, they didn’t want to take anything for granted.
“Everyone wants to continue their season,” Lynch said. “Delaware Tech was a good team. They were athletic, they crashed the boards. They came out hard and intense, and we had to match that.”
Delaware Tech also put a box-and-one on CCRI leading scorer Jahira Smith, which created another wrinkle for the Lady Knights to deal with.
CCRI still grabbed control in the first half, but Delaware Tech made a run at the end of the first half and cut CCRI’s lead to nine.
In the second half, the run continued. Delaware Tech jumped in front and led by two with 14 minutes to go.
The Lady Knights knew what they needed to do.
“It wasn’t that we needed to make adjustments,” Lynch said. “We were doing uncharacteristic things – throwing the ball away, making some defensive miscues. We just had to calm them down and say ‘Don’t play for tomorrow. Play for right now.’”
The message got through. CCRI took the lead back and eventually pulled away.
“We really picked it up in the second half,” Lynch said.
Smith fought through the box-and-one defense to score a team-high 18 points. In the process, the sophomore became the first player in CCRI women’s basketball history to score 1,000 career points.
Ahnyyah Jackson added 15 points and four rebounds off the bench, while Nyjah Porcher charted her 15th double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Jenna Ayala added seven points and 13 rebounds, while point guard Treedy Ward had 10 points and seven assists.
“Treedy really played well,” Lynch said. “She hit some big shots and she stepped up at the point guard position.”
On Sunday, CCRI went against rival Monroe. It was the fourth meeting between the teams, and a week earlier, CCRI had beaten Monroe in overtime for the region championship. This time, the Mustangs surged to a 78-64 win. Monroe will also be headed to nationals.
“Sunday was disappointing,” Lynch said. “We didn’t play well. Hopefully, we’ll bounce back from that.”
Thankfully for the Lady Knights, that loss wasn’t the end of the line. They’ll now turn their attention to nationals.
“We feel confident,” Lynch said. “We have to play our game. We played the No. 1 team in the country earlier this year and we lost to them by four, so we know we can compete. It really depends on who plays well for the next four or five games. I think the tournament is wide open.”
CCRI is seeded 10th out of 16 teams and will open tournament play on Tuesday, March 19 at 1 p.m. against No. 7 Owens Community College of Toledo, Ohio.