AMHERST, MA – The York College women's basketball team saw their outstanding 2011-12 season come to end at the hands of top ranked Amherst College 79-55 on Friday night at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst, Mass.
The Spartans conclude their season with a mark of 24-6 while the undefeated Lord Jeffs advance to the round of eight with a perfect 30-0 mark.
The Spartans got off to a good start as sophomore point guard Aja Wallpher hit the first bucket of the game on York's first possession, giving York its first, and only, lead of the game.
Sophomore forward Brittany Hicks hit a jumper at the 16:33 mark, tying the low scoring contest at four. The Lord Jeffs then put together an 11-2 run, extending their lead to 15-6 with 11:36 remaining in the first half. Amherst All-American Caroline Stedman poured in seven straight points on the run as the hosts gained firm control of the game.
York trimmed the lead down to seven four times over the next eight minutes with the last time coming on a pair of Jess Selby free throws with 4:56 left in the stanza. After another Stedman triple, sophomore Kristen Haley hit a lay up at the 4:20 mark. That would be York's last first half field goal. After Haley's bucket, Amherst outscored York 7-1 to end the half.
The first half saw the Spartans shoot a season-low 24% in the opening 20 minutes while the 18 points was also the lowest total for York. The Green and White also committed 11 first half turnovers which directly led to 15 Amherst points.
The second half didn't start much better for York as the Lord Jeffs scored six of the first eight points of the half to take a 38-20 lead. York used a quick 6-0 spurt to cut the lead to 12 at 38-26 but the Lord Jeffs answered with six of the next eight points to push the lead back to 16 with 14:53 remaining in regulation.
York cut the lead to 13 on a Madeline Sloan lay up with 12:46 but the Lord Jeffs ripped any hopes of a comeback away from York with a 7-1 run that jacked the lead to 19 with 10:43 left in the contest.
Amherst pushed the lead to 26 on two different occasions before settling for the 24-point margin of victory.
Stedman powered four Lord Jeffs in double figures as she poured in 20 points in just 23 minutes of work. Stedman was 7-for-16 from the floor including 3-for-7 from three and 3-for-5 from the line. Lem Atanga McCormick added 18 points and eight rebounds while Marcia Voigt contributed 17 big points including four three pointers, many of which came at key points in the game for Amherst. Megan Robertson came off the bench to add 12 points and six rebounds for the Lord Jeffs.
Hicks powered the Spartans with another impressive performance as she totaled 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor including 2-of-3 from distance and 8-for-13 from the free throw line. She also pulled in a game-high 13 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the year. Wallpher was the other Spartan in double figures with 10 points while she also had six assists and two steals in her 36 minutes of work.
The Spartans shot 33.3% for the game while they attempted just six three pointers all night. The six threes and the two made threes are both season lows for the Green and White. York wasn't great at the free throw line either, converting 17-of-26, good for a 60.7% shooting percentage.
Amherst finished the game shooting 43.3% including 42.9% (9-for-21) from three. The Lord Jeffs made 12-of-17 (70.6%) from the free throw line.
Spartan head coach Betsy Witman doesn't want the result of tonight's game to taint the great season the Spartans had.
"We are a considerably young team and I don't want this last game to be what we take away from this season," stated the Spartan mentor. "It's been an incredible journey. These kids have matured as players and as people. Our team chemistry has been unbelievable by the end of the season, both on and off the floor. I just think we were playing at a high level, particularly the last two games. Even tonight, I thought we played hard. I hope our kids remember that we got to the NCAA tournament and won two games. We will miss our senior leadership but the exciting thing is that the core of this team is sophomores and they have two years to play together. What a great experience to be in the NCAA tournament and win two games. Hopefully we can continue to take more steps further."
Witman knew the Spartans had their work cut out for them coming into the second Sweet 16 in school history.
"We knew coming into the game that Amherst was really strong. We have a lot of respect for their program and what they have done this year. I thought we were prepared but Amherst is a very good team. They beat us inside and outside and were very tough to score against."
Witman felt the Lord Jeffs were comparable to Capital Athletic Conference foe Mary Washington, who is also undefeated on the season.
They are similar to Mary Washington but they are a step better. They are deeper and bigger. I am proud of my team and we fought until the end. We could have easily put our heads down, even though we lost by a pretty big margin, our kids kept fighting."
Hicks commented about the inside/out ability of the Lord Jeffs.
"It's hard when you have a team that goes inside and out. There's not one player on that team that didn't step outside and you had to guard against the three. Even when I am guarding someone, I am allowed a little bit of space but Amherst didn't allow me to have that. We had to rely on our help defense but they are really good at dishing the ball so it was just an all around tough time guarding them because they have such good players."
Witman knew the Lord Jeffs made things difficult on the Spartans in the first half.
"I thought in the first half we weren't very patient on the offensive end. We were taking quick shots but credit their defense, they made us play that way. Normally shots that come very easily to us just weren't there. It's not like they weren't open, the shots just weren't there. They are the best defensive team we have seen all season.
The loss closes out the stellar career of four-year starter April Sparkman. She finishes her career with 1,615 points, good for third on the all-time scoring list. She collected 767 rebounds and made 148 career three point field goals. She was a three-time All-CAC selection for the Green and White and will go down as one of the best players in Spartan history. Seniors Khadija Mitchell and Brittany Percich also saw their careers conclude with the loss.
Amherst, the defending Division III National Champions, continue their impressive run. The Lord Jeffs have won 49 straight games including 66 straight at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst. The Lord Jeffs' senior class has amassed an impressive 123-6 mark over the last four years including a 94-2 mark in the last three years.
The Lord Jeffs play Emmanuel for a trip to the Final Four. Amherst is playing for their fourth straight trip to the Division III Final Four. Tip time from Amherst is set for 6:00 pm.