With roughly one minute left in Navy’s 75-56 loss to Holy Cross in the Patriot League women’s basketball semifinals Monday night, Midshipmen Coach Stefanie Pemper began taking her seniors out of the game, making sure to embrace each one longer than usual in their final game at Alumni Hall.
The senior class long ago had become the winningest in program history, and that group came into this season with aspirations of not just a fourth straight Patriot League tournament title but also seeking to win a game in the NCAA tournament. The five seniors instead sat on the bench teary-eyed as the final seconds ticked off the clock, their season falling well short of what they set out to accomplish.
“What a compliment to them that a game like this hasn’t happened in the last three years,” Pemper said of her seniors. “Even just winning the league outright this year and setting the [school] win record, I just thanked them. Just incredible commitment.”
The Midshipmen, who won the Patriot League regular season title outright for the first time, had a seven-game winning streak against Holy Cross end and lost for just the second time in eight games.
They also lost at home for only the fourth time in 13 league tournament games.
The Crusaders advanced to play Army, a 68-55 winner over visiting American in the other semifinal.
Army will host the title game on Saturday. The winner will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
Senior forward Jade Geif led Navy with a team-high 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting and added eight rebounds.
Senior forward Audrey Bauer chipped in 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists, and senior guard Alix Membreno had 10 points and five assists.
“It’s been terrific,” Geif said of her career, which has included twice being named Patriot League tournament MVP. “I’m not really looking at what I’ve personally done but what this team has done and just being around this terrific group of ladies, especially just our seniors. I think that’s where personal success comes from, is from the people around you.”
Navy (24-7) fell behind by 12 points in the first half but was able to coming roaring back to take a 36-32 lead shortly after intermission.
From there, though, the Crusaders embarked on an 18-2 burst, including Brisje Malone’s three-pointer with 15 minutes 31 seconds left that reclaimed the lead for good.
Holy Cross (20-11) extended the lead to 75-52 with 1:24 to play, and it was shortly thereafter when Pemper first removed Geif and Kara Pollinger, who finished 0-for-9 shooting and with no points for the first time since becoming a starter three years ago.
The senior point guard had scored 17 points, making 5 of 8 from three-point range, in Thursday’s 84-54 win against Lehigh in the quarterfinals.
The Crusaders had five players reach double figures, with Malone scoring a game-high 23 with seven assists and six rebounds.
Raquel Scott had 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds and Molly Hourigan added 12 points and rebounds for Holy Cross.
Overall, the Crusaders shot 50 percent from three-point range, including 7 for 9 in the second half.
“It’s been an incredible experience here the last four years,” Bauer said. “Just coming in as freshmen, I knew we were never able to see any of that ahead of ourselves. To enjoy those successes together and to experience them has been something special.”