After a stunning run at the NEWMAC title a year ago as the number six seed in the tournament, it would seem Springfield had a much easier road to the championship this year.
Now the top seed after a dominant regular season, the Pride had home court advantage with the loud and anxious Pride faithful making their presence felt on every opponent turnover or questionable call. When you are the defending champions, however, every team is coming at you with all they have.
Springfield found that out Saturday afternoon, when the fourth seeded Babson Beavers came into Blake Arena as the underdogs, and left 64-57 victors.
Perhaps the loss should not come to as much of a shock as it did to many, as these two teams, as recently as two weeks prior, were both ranked in the top 12 for Division III New England. Babson has a good team, but Springfield it looked like, had their number.
That was until, with a little more than 12 minute to play in the semi-final contest, Giovanna Pickering made a brilliant steal at half court, one of her four on the day, and turned it into a deep two-pointer from the what seemed like behind the basket. As the ball floated through the air, the Babson bench began to stand up, and when it fell through the twine, they nearly exploded.
A few chairs were knocked over on the bench, and Babson coach Judy Blinstrub had to hold a few of her players back from the court. The shot gave the Beavers a 38-37 lead, their first since they were up 2-0.
Back on February 11, Springfield had controlled much of the game against Babson on the same hardwood, and they walked off the floor with a 20-point victory. Still, in a back and fourth game, this lead change may not have seemed such a big deal.
But Babson was also down 29-13 with under six minutes to play in the first half. Lexi Windwer knocked down her third three-pointer of the half, falling down at the feet of the Babson bench as the shot fell through the net, and it seemed like the Pride were going to run away with another win against Babson.
Springfield had their number, even a mini run by Babson to make it 33-20 at the half had to leave the Beavers’ players wondering if this was it for their season.
If they did feel that way, they did not show it. Instead, a confident Babson team took the floor in the second half, forcing Springfield to turn the ball over 11 times in the half.
Not only were the beavers confident, but they were clutch. After getting into early foul trouble, the Pride sent Babson to the line early and often in the second half, and the Beavers were up to the task, knocking down 19 of 22 second half foul shots.
Springfield was successful in limiting the offensive production from Pickering, but did not have an answer for Babson junior Linnett Graber, who shot 50 percent from the floor on her way to 19 points.
A year ago, a trip to the semi-finals may have been viewed as a success for many Pride fans after just four wins in 2012-13. But after winning the tournament last year and having a stellar regular season, sights were set on recapturing the NEWMAC Championship for a second consecutive season.
However, this may only be a minor setback for Springfield, as underclassmen Lexi Windwer and Heather Lewis led the Pride with 15 and 14 points respectively.
The Pride will certainly miss the production and leadership from their three seniors, but this one loss will not diminish all that they have accomplished in their careers at Springfield.