Wearing bright pink warm up shirts in an arena covered in streamers, balloons, and signs, the Springfield College women’s basketball team took the court with heavy hearts. As their annual “Think Pink” game, the Pride supported those affected by breast cancer with a powerful moment of silence before tip-off. Also serving as the final home game of the 2016-17 regular season, the Pride honored their seniors as they walked onto the court accompanied by their family members. Emotions running high, these ceremonies set the scene for what would be much more than just an average game.
After previously defeating Clark on Jan. 4 with a score of 72-63, the Pride were able to do so once again, beating the Cougars 57-48. This win keeps Springfield ranked second in the NEWMAC conference. Given that playoffs will begin on Wednesday, each game is critical to win, in order to finish out the regular season with the best ranking possible.
After a relatively slow start for both teams, the energy picked up early in the second quarter, when Springfield went on a tear, scoring 8 unanswered points. Sophomore Gracie Restituyo was a spark in the paint, with 3 of her 4 blocks coming from the first half. Restituyo finished the game with 8 points and 8 rebounds, tying her with senior Ava Adamopoulos for the most rebounds of the night.
Clark rallied and responded with a run of its own, scoring 9 unanswered points in the final three minutes of the first half. The Cougars were able to close the gap and come up with a mere one point lead, 23-22. Given how quickly the momentum shifted throughout the first half, it was evident that this game would be a battle of more than just basketball; it would be a battle of heart.
No one knows more about heart than Coach Naomi Graves. As a breast cancer survivor herself, the “Think Pink” game is always very important to Graves, but her team admires her heart every day.
“You want to talk about heart and soul when it comes to Coach Graves- she pushes us to our max in practice,” said Adamopoulos. “Coach is just so tough and so passionate. She’s a fighter.”
Channeling this passionate mentality, the Pride went on another strong 11-2 run to open the first five and a half minutes of the second half. However, once again Clark refused to back down and answered with 13 points of its own. The third quarter closed out with a battle at the free throw line, forcing both teams to score when it mattered most: under the ominous pressure of a silent arena and an open basket.
Entering the last stretch of the game leading 39-38, Springfield knew that it needed to control the momentum right away and maintain it all the way through the final buzzer. The Pride lead an impressive 13-2 run in the opening eight minutes of the quarter, digging deep when it mattered most.
“Our coach talks about grit a lot, and we’re a team that is very gritty,” Adamopoulos said. “When it comes down to fight time, when it comes down to crunch time, we know what we have to do.”
Adamopoulos was a central part of the defensive surge, coming up with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. At 6 feet and 2 inches tall, the senior center also produced 19 points in her last guaranteed home game in Blake Arena.
“It’s very bittersweet,” explained Adamopoulos. “I love my coaches, I love my team, and I love the Birthplace.”
This victory, 57-48, was a much lower score than the matchup earlier this season, 72-63, likely due to the absence of Heather King. King, who put up a career-best 20 points previously, was out with an ankle injury from the Feb. 8 game against WPI. While unable to play in this game, the starting junior is expected to return on Saturday.
The Pride will need King, as well as their entire team, to fight hard closing out the regular season against Babson this weekend. Springfield will look to overtake Babson, which is currently ranked first in the NEWMAC conference.