By Vin Gallo
Deputy Sports Editor
Within a roster that Springfield head coach Naomi Graves praises for being rich with depth, another lethal offensive force shined on Wednesday to add to the Pride’s formidable guard rotation. Chelsea McAllister proved herself to be that force at the right time.
Graves put it bluntly, “If we didn’t make baskets [tonight], we’d be dead.”
She was right. Situations were dire for the Pride heading into the second half of the regular season showdown against the WPI Engineers. In the opening seconds of the third quarter, Danielle Racette picked up her fourth foul of the contest. WPI had a tight grip on the Pride’s post attack. Heather King was lost for the game with an ankle injury. The Springfield offense was treading the team over deep water against the second seed in NEWMAC and the Pride needed a spark.
As the clock ticked under the 2:30 mark with the fourth quarter nigh, McAllister attacked the basket, and scored a contact layup over the Engineers’ Jackie Panneton for an and-one opportunity. She would convert the free throw.
On the Engineer’s next possession, Ama Biney missed a layup. With that, the door to a win open for Springfield, and the Pride took it. Alex Goslin sprinted down the court with three WPI defenders back and fired a pass to McAllister.
The sophomore pulled up to end the break, and slowly backed towards the three point line. One dribble. Another. As soon as McAllister picked up the second, she thrusted her arms to her left and sold a head fake, influencing WPI guard Stasha Greenalch to jump. With her defender airborne, McAllister fired a three that found the bottom of the net, garnering a standing ovation from her teammates on the bench, their arms raised in the air as if in anticipation for a ride on a roller coaster. “As soon as we saw that ball fake three, we were like, ‘let’s go, we’re going to win this,’” said Graves.
It was McAllister who kept her bench and the crowd roaring with approval. On Springfield’s final two possessions of the third quarter, McAllister casted a floating runner over the WPI defense, and buried a mid-range jumper with 10 seconds remaining. With momentum now firmly on its side, the Pride went on to take control of the game in crunch time, en route to a 67-60 victory.
“[McAllister] made some good decisions, and with those decisions she was instinctive,” Graves said. “She did a great job of putting the team on her back.”
McAllister finished with a career high 24 points and was seven of nine from the field while tallying three three pointers on three attempts. With three games remaining in the regular season, she looks to carry such momentum through the final and most difficult stretch of competition.
“Coming into my sophomore year one of the biggest focuses was my confidence in my shot,” said McAllister. “Tonight I was able to show it. I know I can do it. We’ve been working on [our shots] every practice.”
Graves was pleased that McAllister came through as Springfield’s sharpshooter last night, with Molly McCausland hampered with the flu, and Lexi Windwer also under the weather.
“It’s the best game I’ve seen Chelsea play this season,” she said. “And she needed this, because she had a lot of games where she was missing her go to shots and we told her, ‘We know you can do this.’ I’m really proud to see her [come through], Chelsea knew she needed to step up tonight and she did.”
Consistent performances from McAllister like the game on Wednesday would revolutionize the Pride’s perimeter offense for the playoffs, as it would give Springfield additional options on the scoring end, if post play was to slump against stout paint defenses. A trio of McAllister, McCausland, and Windwer clicking on all cylinders would be difficult to contain, as McAllister and McCausland already average eight points per game, while McCausland’s three point percentage still stands at 58 percent.
“I’m really excited about our depth right now, [our depth] can bring us to a place that’s better than most teams,” said Graves. “[McAllister, McCausland, and Windwer] together are a great shooting rotation. There’s no let down there. We need all of them to bring their A game. To win the NEWMAC conference we have to play exceptional.”