After entering the second half with a five-point lead, the Springfield College women’s basketball team struggled to hold on to it. It seemed that for every Pride basket, Gordon College had an immediate answer, never once showing any signs of backing down.
After a pair of Fighting Scots free throws broke a stalemate at 45 with just 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter, they were poised to head into the final quarter with the lead.
Senior guard Rachel Vinton caught the ensuing inbound pass in full stride, sprinting hard up the right sideline － determined to not enter the fourth quarter down. Once entering the frontcourt, she made a hard crossover to her left, faking her defender out, allowing Vinton to drive toward the middle of the floor.
But as she crossed the free throw line, a help defender met Vinton, halting her from pursuing closer. Showing adaptability, Vinton pivoted to her right, and delivered a hard chest pass to center Lindsey Laughlan on the right wing. As quickly as Laughlan received the pass, she immediately got rid of the ball. The defender in the corner came to help, leaving first-year Stefany Padula wide-open.
Padula snagged the pass － and in one clean motion, gathered herself, and let the ball fly.
As the shot hit the bottom of the net, and nothing else, Blake Arena erupted.
“That was huge,” Naomi Graves, Springfield’s head coach, said.
Once gaining that lead, the Pride had captured all of the momentum, and held on to the lead until the final whistle, defeating Gordon 68-57 on Saturday.
It marks the first time this season that Springfield has defeated an opponent by double-digits, which is made even more impressive by the fact that leading scorer, Sam Hourihan, was out. But in her absence, a fresh face in Padula stepped up significantly.
In her first career start, starting in place of Hourihan, Padula shined, leading the Pride in scoring with 15 points, connecting on five of her six three-point attempts, just two short of the single-game campus record. One of those threes was Springfield’s first basket.
After bringing down a strong rebound on the defensive end, Padula hit guard Kayla Madden on an outlet pass up the left sideline. The ball eventually made its way back to an open Padula in the right corner, who calmly drained her first field goal attempt as a starter.
“Just knowing that I hit that first allowed me to focus on setting up my teammates and playing defense and all the other things,” Padula said. “I think that defense fuels offense, but obviously it feels good when you make a shot because it motivates me even more to play defense.”
Despite her amazing game, Padula humbly doesn’t accept all the credit.
“I wouldn’t necessarily just give credit to myself,” she said. “I give credit to my whole team. I think it was a very good game and without Sam, I think everybody stepped up and came in and did really well.
Outside of Padula’s heroics, the defense for Springfield was top tier. It was able to force 22 Gordon turnovers, mostly on the back of a ferocious 1-2-2 zone defense. Graves first turned to the zone early in the second quarter, when Gordon had just five team turnovers. By halftime, that number had ballooned up to 12.
“I think our defense [was the biggest factor to the win],” Padula said. “When we all started communicating and picking it up on the defensive end, we started playing really well – really intense.”
It was that same defense that helped push Springfield to victory, as down the stretch, in the final six minutes of the game, the Pride held Gordon completely scoreless. The Pride’s ability to hold onto leads late in the game and pull out close victories has been a common theme to start the season.
“Rachel [Vinton], Sam [Hourihan], and some of the returners, they’re just refusing to lose,” Graves said. “It’s pretty amazing to watch and be a part of.”
Along with second-leading rebounder Hourihan out, the team’s leading rebounder Angela Czeremcha had to come out due to injury in the second quarter. Vinton took over on the glass, as she fought as hard as she could for each of her team-leading ten boards. In her all-out effort performance, she ended with six points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and three steals.
Springfield will play again on Nov. 22 against Williams at 4 p.m. in Blake Arena.
Photo Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics