Mary Washington 70,

Catholic Men 68

When the final buzzer sounded, the Catholic University players stood in disbelief, watching the Mary Washington crowd spill onto its home court to celebrate the Eagles' 70-68 win in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament championship yesterday.

"You don't like [the fans storming the floor] because it's your home court," Catholic forward Will Morley said. "You don't like to see anybody disrespect your home court. . . . Let them cut the nets down. Hopefully, we still get in the NCAAs, and we can cut some nets down."

The No. 9 Cardinals (24-4), winners of three of the last five CAC tournament titles, had a chance to send the game into overtime in the final seconds but Matt Hilleary's layup was blocked and time expired before Catholic could attempt another shot. The Cardinals, who won the Division III national championship two years ago, must hope tonight when the brackets are announced that they receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

No. 25 Mary Washington (24-4), which was making its first appearance in the CAC championship game, advanced to the NCAA tournament, capping the best season in school history and the seventh winning season in the program's 29-year history.

"You always envied Catholic because they've had such success, especially my freshman year when they won the national championship," said junior guard Evan Fowler (Chantilly), who made 3 of 4 free throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the win. "To come in here and beat them at their own place, it's unreal."

Mary Washington, buoyed by its vocal fans who made up a large part of the near-capacity crowd at DuFour Center, played with the confidence of a champion, hitting numerous big shots to hold off Catholic. None was bigger than the three-pointer Erik Rodriguez (Marshall) made with 1 minute 47 seconds to play.

The Cardinals had gone on an 8-0 run to slice Mary Washington's lead to 62-61. The Eagles appeared about to cave in when Rodriguez made his second three-pointer of the game.

"We were getting a lot of body blows to us," Mary Washington Coach Ron Wood said. "All of a sudden, we were able to stagger them. We got a burst of energy and that really helped us, especially defensively."

Catholic, which never led after the 9:02 mark of the first half, had won its 11 CAC regular season games by an average of 18.7 points. But since losing its regular season finale to Goucher, Catholic won its two CAC tournament games by a combined nine points.

For the Cardinals to make a sixth straight NCAA appearance, they must hope that the selection committee takes into account their history of success and their strong schedule.

"I think we should get in," Catholic Coach Mike Lonergan said. "I know we're one of the best teams, but they can't take everybody."