EASTON, Mass. – Trailing by as many as 11 in the second half, the No. 16 University of the Sciences women's basketball battled a sold out crowd to cut the deficit to two entering the fourth quarter, but the Devils ran of gas in a 71-61 loss at No. 11 Stonehill in the East Region Final on Monday night.
"We lost to a really good team. It was a very tough environment, but I am really proud of our team," said head coach Jackie Hartzell. "We fought to the end, and I am really proud of all of our coaches and players."
USciences' (30-4) historic season, a campaign in which the Devils set school records for wins, regular season victories (25), win-streak (18) and national ranking (No. 11), comes to an end in the program's first-ever Sweet 16 appearance.
Trailing 40-29 with 6:57 remaining in the third, University of the Sciences closed out the quarter on a 13-4 run cut the deficit to two entering the fourth, but the Devils could never pull even.
Jordan Vitelli beat the third quarter buzzer to make the score 44-42 with 10 minutes to play. Sarah Abbonizio and Alex Thomas - who were both named to the NCAA East Region All-Tournament Team - had combined for nine of the first 10 points in the stretch, with the defense holding Stonehill to just four points over the final 6:57 of the quarter.
The Skyhawks (31-3) scored the first four points of the fourth, but Thomas came right back with the next four to cut the deficit to two, 46-48, once more with 8:30 to go.
Stonehill always had an answer though, this time scoring five straight to extend the advantage back to seven.
Twice USciences was able to get as close as five, including when Abbonizio made two free throws with 5:36 showing, but the Devils never could make it a single-possession game again.
Stonehill's final 10 points came via the foul line, with the Skyhawks making 10-of-12 free throws over the final three minutes.
Abbonizio, a senior, played all 40 minutes, matching her career-high of 27 points in her final career game. The 27 points were nine more than any other player, and she also pulled down a team-high six rebounds.
She ends her career eighth all-time with 1,299 career points, while her 540 points this season rank fifth in the program's single-season history.
Abbonizio also ends her career tied for third, with Thomas and Colleen Walsh, with 167 career 3-pointers.
"Our work ethic and our determination to make this program into something special has worked. I think we put ourselves on the map," said Abbonizio. "I really appreciate the coaching staff and everybody on the team; they are my best friends. I made a lot of relationships I would not have made had I not come, and I am really thankful for this opportunity."
Laura Trisch's storied career also came to an end, with the senior finishing fourth all-time with 128 career blocks and ninth all-time with 699 career rebounds.
"I am really proud of how hard we have worked to put our school on the map," added Trisch. "We have all struggled through things, but we just pick each other up. The way that we were able to turn the direction of our team around, and make these last two years so successful… I am just so proud of everyone. It has been the best four years of my life, and I know we lost but I would not trade it for anything."
"They have been amazing. They have put us on the map," said Hartzell. "It has been all about the team from day one, and that has definitely allowed us to be successful. Any success our program has moving forward is because of this senior class."
Thomas and Ye were second on the team with 11 points each.
Thomas made two 3-pointers to finish tied for third in the program's single-season history with 65 trifectas this season, while Walsh made one to finish tied for fifth with 64.
University of the Sciences could not overcome 36.4 percent shooting (20-of-55), including going 4-of-18 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range.
Stonehill on the other hand shot 47.1 percent (24-of-51), including 8-of-19 (42.1) from beyond the arc. The Skyhawks shot 59.1 percent (13-of-22) in the first half, making 6-of-10 3-pointers, to jump out to a nine-point halftime advantage.
Neither team led by more than four points in a first quarter that featured four lead changes and one tie, and Abbonizio scored the first basket of the second to cut a four-point deficit to 14-16.
Stonehill made back-to-back 3-pointers though, to take what at the time was the half's largest advantage, 22-14, with 7:22 to go in the half.
The two team's traded baskets, and University of the Sciences then scored eight straight points on a Thomas 3-pointer, Abbonizio layup and Walsh trifecta to tie the score for the only time in the quarter, 24-24, 2:45 later.
Stonehill responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to begin an 11-2 run over the final 3:10, capped by a layup six seconds ahead of the halftime buzzer to take the largest lead of the half, 35-26, into the locker room.
That lead stayed between eight and 11 until USciences made its third quarter run.