The Tommies were looking for redemption, retribution and reward on Sunday afternoon. They got what they were there for.
The St. Thomas women’s basketball team faced their rivals, the Holland College Hurricanes, in the ACAA playoff final in Truro on Sunday. The Hurricanes had beaten the Tommies near the end of the regular season, ending the Tommies’ impressive winning streak at 98.
“We came in this game and we wanted retribution,” said Tommies head coach Fred Connors.
The Tommies started out strong, taking the lead right from the beginning and ending the quarter up 22-16. One of the biggest strengths for STU was controlling the rebounds. The Tommies out-rebounded the athletic Hurricanes 53-37, with 18 offensive rebounds.
“It was a super close game,” said third-year Tommies guard Kelly Vass. “We knew they were coming out to battle and that we had to battle hard harder.”
Vass had 15 points and eight boards. She was named defensive player of the year for the ACAA on Friday night, and she showed it with four steals. Hilary Goodine had a strong game for the Tommies, getting 10 points while pulling down eight rebounds. Carissa McTague lead the team in rebounds with 10.
Despite struggling with their three-point shot in the first half, the Tommies lead 33-24 halfway through.
The third quarter was taken by the Hurricanes, as they came out ready to challenge St. Thomas. Holland College brought the Tommies’ lead down to five by the end of the third, and were ready to take the lead.
But St. Thomas wasn’t going to let that happen. The Tommies have won the past three ACAA conference championships, and are no strangers to the pressure. Even with the Hurricanes crowd trying to break their concentration, the Tommies were able to hit 23 of their 25 free throws.
“At the end of the day I think our experience was the difference,” said Connors. “They started to fall apart down the stretch by taking technicals and getting on each other. We just got tighter. The more adverse the situation, the more we came together.”
As the fourth quarter got rolling St. Thomas really turned it on. What started as just a five-point lead grew and grew. Soon the Tommies had the lead to double digits, and the Hurricanes fell apart. STU went on to beat their rivals 66-49, winning their fourth ACAA conference championship in a row.
“This is the sweetest one. We’ve gone through a tremendous amount as a team,” said Connors. “It means the world to me.”
There was never a time in the game where the Tommies were down, and even when their lead was getting smaller, they still seemed in control.
“We played 40 [minutes] of defense and it all came together,” said Vass.
The Tommies had lots of support, as the St. Thomas fans crowded the stands to cheer on their team. Vass could feel the support on the court.
“The crowd was amazing, I think that helped us a lot.”
Connors believes one of the things that makes the team so strong is their closeness on and off the court.
“When you talk about a team that loves each other, that’s it right there,” said Connors.
The Tommies will need to keep up the strong play as they head to nationals on March 13. There they will compete for the CCAA national title.