HUNTINGDON, Pa. – The York College women's basketball is headed to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen as the Spartans topped host Juniata 90-81 Saturday evening in Huntingdon. As a team, the Green and White shot an incredible 76.9% in the first half and finished at 66.0% for the game to move to 24-5 on the season. The Eagles finish the 2012 campaign at 26-3 and suffer only their second loss at home all season.
Impressively, York shot a scalding 20-for-26, including 8-for-9 from three-point range, in the first half finishing the contest shooting 35-of-53 from the field. That 66% performance proved the Green and White's best shooting effort of the season by far. Previously, York had reached the .500 mark three times during the season with their best showing coming just last night as they shot .537 from the field in the 86-66 first-round win over St. Vincent
"It was just one of those nights where everything came together," Spartan head coach Betsy Witman said. "It was a lot of unselfish play, setting each other up in a great position to score. It was the most incredible offensive performance than I have ever seen any of my teams ever put together."
The Spartans put together an unbelievably balanced effort as four starters ended up in double figures while the other posted 11 assists.
Sophomore Brittany Hicks led all scorers with 27 points, just one shy of her career high, as she went 9-for-12 from the field, 3-for-4 from three, and 6-for-7 from the free throw line. As usual, she proved a tough presence for York while adding four rebounds, four assists, and one block.
Senior April Sparkman put together a tremendous contest as she proved a huge factor in leading York to its second Sweet Sixteen appearance during her time in a Spartan uniform. Sparkman, who Witman referred to as playing "like a fifth-year senior possessed," poured in 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting including a 3-for-4 performance from deep. Providing a great experienced presence for the Green and White, Sparkman filled the stat sheet with six rebounds, four steals, three assists, and one block.
Just one night after establishing a new career-high in points with 25, Kristen Haley registered a new career-high in rebounds as she pulled down 16 caroms to best her previous high of 15 set earlier this season. In addition to her fantastic performance on the boards, Haley also poured in 17 points to capture her team-best 11th double-double of the campaign.
Kelsey Murphy totaled 12 points for the Green and White as she put in an especially strong first half effort. Over the first 20 minutes the sophomore sharpshooter was 3-for-4 from the including 2-for-3 from deep.
For the second consecutive game, point guard Aja Wallpher dished out 11 assists and committed only one turnover. The nation's leader in assists per game bumps her average up yet again as she now stands at 7.3 helpers per contest.
Off the bench, Spartan senior Brittany Percich provided solid minutes for the Green and White when Wallpher was hit with her third foul midway through the second half. Percich, who put together a great game yesterday, helped York maintain their double-digit advantage against the Eagles.
On the strength of their outstanding first-half shooting, the Spartans opened up an 11-point lead through the first 20 minutes. York's lead reached double-digits for the first time at 18-7on a Wallpher jumper with 13:54 to play. Their first half advantage crested to 18 on a pair of occasions before the Spartans went into the break up eleven.
Juniata, which finished the first half on a 6-0 run, looked to slice deeper into York's lead early in the second stanza. The Eagles extended that run into the early portion of the half, starting the frame on a 4-1 spurt. That effort cut the Spartan margin to seven at 53-46 with 17:08 remaining.
"Just when Juniata would go on a run, we would find a way to stop them, and we would do it by our scoring," Witman commented.
And that is just how York ceased Juniata's comeback bid. With their lead at a mere seven, the Spartans hit eight of their next nine shots from the floor over a 5:39 span to push their lead to 72-55 with 11:15 remaining. York's lone miss in that spurt resulted in a Murphy offensive rebound followed by a made Wallpher jumper. Each of the five Spartan starters scored in that 19-8 run.
York maintained their double-digit advantage throughout a majority of the rest of the contest. Their advantage reached a peak of 19 at 82-63 with 5:15 left and then again at 88-69 with 2:40 to play.
Juniata's Kate McDonald led her squad with 16 points and 15 rebounds for the 43rd double-double, as she ranks in the top-50 in Division III for career double-doubles. Ashton Bankos, the Landmark Player of the Year, and Jordan Speck each tallied 15 and Jordan Hileman was the fourth Eagle in double-figures with 13.
The Spartans make their second trip to the NCAA Tournament's round of sixteen as they follow the program record-setting 2008-2009 squad, which also reached the Sweet Sixteen.
With Mary Washington's 53-50 win over Messiah, this marks only second time in Capital Athletic Conference history where two CAC women's basketball teams have reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen in the same season. The last time it happened, back in 2001-2002, Marymount, on the way to a berth in the Final Four, bested CAC foe Salisbury 79-52.
York is now slated to face Amherst, the defending Division III national champion, on Friday, March 9. Complete location and game time information will be available early next week. Please check www.ycpspartans.com for up-to-date information.
PHOTO: Brittany Hicks surveys the floor during York's 90-81 triumph over Juniata on Saturday evening in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament. Courtesy of Brent Duffy - York College (Pa.) Athletic Communications.