For the third time in as many years, the Springfield College men’s basketball team lost in the NEWMAC Championship game, coming up just shy of an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
However, for the second consecutive season, the Pride received an automatic bid to the tournament, earning a trip to Ashland, Va. to play Mary Washington in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Under the direction of head coach Charlie Brock, this is the third time the Pride have made it to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons.
“I was excited when we saw our name pop up on the selection show,” said senior Robbie Burke. “Once I saw three other NEWMAC teams be selected, I didn’t think our chances were good to be picked. It was a roller coaster of emotions and I’m just glad the NCAA chose us.”
The Pride fell to MIT, who upset host WPI on Saturday, 67-56, due in large part to poor shooting from Springfield.
The Pride shot just 36 percent from the floor while connecting on just 2-of-17 from downtown while MIT went for 33 percent from beyond the ark and 50 percent from the floor.
“I wasn’t happy after the game. I really wanted the NEWMAC title to be brought back to Springfield,” said Burke, who was the only member of the Pride to be selected to the NEWMAC’s First Team All-Conference. “It was a tough loss to swallow because we worked so hard to get there. They made big plays at opportune times of the game. We dug ourselves into a hole that we couldn’t get out of.”
Burke led the team with 24 points scoring while Tim Swenson paced the Pride with eight boards, five of which were offensive.
“We didn’t shoot well,” said coach Charlie Brock. “[MIT] played well. They played their game. Their tempo is very controlled. They’re very long and very big. They got the ball inside and did the things they are good at.”
Despite the disappointing loss, the Pride were given a chance to redeem themselves with the trip to Virginia, although the team did have to wait until the wee moments of the selection show before learning of the bid.
“I was just so happy,” senior forward Tim Swenson said. “There’s not one word that can fully describe that feeling. Hearing our name get called really turned everyone’s day around and it felt like we had a second chance at life.”
That second chance is an opportunity to play 22-5 Mary Washington, the winners of the Capital Athletic Conference. The Eagles downed Christopher Newport 65-48 to earn their trip to the dance.
Although the Pride enter as an underdog, the past proves to be a point of experience. Last season, the Pride followed a similar script to the NCAA Tournament, falling to WPI in the NEWMAC Championship game before earning a first round home game in the NCAA Tournament, a loss to Ithaca.
“I think that for the guys that were here last year, it really helps to have that experience under our belts,” said Swenson, who added six points in the loss to MIT. “We know what to expect going into the game, and the consequences of not coming out on top. We all want to make a run in this tournament.”
Although the scenery will change, the preparation will not.
“We tried all January and February to take the days when we had a couple off to take the first day and work on us and use the second day to work on them,” said Brock. “We can’t predict we’re going to have a really good practice and an energetic one after being on a long bus ride, so all our work yesterday was to better ourselves and play better.”
For the seniors, this trip to Virgina marks one last opportunity to make a run at a national title.
“I’m so happy for Robbie [Burke] because he’s not coming back next year,” Swenson said. “And for the younger guys, that haven’t experienced it before as well. One of the goals of our program is to become a mainstay in the NCAAs, and we’ve got something good going on here at the Birthplace.”