By Hayden Choate
There were just 1.1 seconds left in the overtime period of the NCAA Round of 32, with the score deadlocked at 71. The Springfield College women’s basketball team stood ready to inbound the ball from the baseline and look for one last shot while Ithaca College looked to send the game to double-overtime in their home gym.
Graduate student Sidney Wentland tossed the ball to junior Sam Hourihan after she created separation from her defender. Fading away, Hourihan launched a mid-range shot as time expired and watched the ball fall into the net as she fell backwards, sending the Springfield bench behind her into pandemonium.
The shot not only won Springfield the game, but advanced them to the NCAA championship tournament Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.
The Posse will play Trine University, out of Angola, Indiana on the campus of Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky on Friday afternoon.
“We’re excited. We’re really excited to be traveling to somewhere like Kentucky, that adds a little spin to it,” Springfield head coach Naomi Graves said. “Looking forward to seeing the facility getting on the court. We’ve been talking a lot about this team.”
Springfield matched up with Messiah College in the first round last Friday. After a strong defensive game, the Pride advanced to the second round with a 73-68 win.
The Posse matched up with Ithaca the next day, which was not only hosting the first two rounds, but was on a 20-game winning streak heading into the game.
With the gym crowded with students and parents for the NCAA Tournament game, something that had not happened since before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Springfield played a strong game but Ithaca clawed their way back in the last minutes of the fourth quarter.
The score in Springfield’s favor, 64-61 Ithaca had possession of the ball with 9.9 seconds left in regulation. The Bombers were able to get a buzzer-beating three to tie the game, sending it to overtime and setting up Hourihan’s matching buzzer-beater – only this time was for the win.
The team is 15-0 when playing teams outside of the NEWMAC conference this season. Graves believes playing teams out of the conference helped her unit relax a bit and just play basketball.
Graves said, “I know about Messiah because we’ve played them before and I know Ithaca a little bit but the beauty of the NCAA tournament is hopefully you get to play teams that you don’t normally play so for us there is a beauty to the unknown.”
Trine University is 26-3 this season and beat Immaculata and John Caroll to advance to the third round for the third time in their program history and first time since 2020 when the tournament was stopped.
“They’re very good but we’re very good,” Graves said. “They’re bigger and deeper than we are in terms of size and depth but I think the way we’re playing right now any team should be afraid of us because we seem to come up with things that people don’t expect so I’m excited.”
Heading into the weekend as the team will fly to Lexington two days before the game, Graves is grateful that her team has been able to experience the NCAA tournament.
“Every coach always wants to get to the NCAAs and it’s harder and harder I think nowadays to do that for a lot of reasons, conferences are much tougher, players are a lot more competitive,” Graves said. “It’s harder to reach that goal. Whenever you get that opportunity to get to the NCAAs it’s just a gift and so we’re trying really hard to enjoy the ride and take in the experience and just these memories that we’re making I know they’re going to be there forever for our team and for our coaches and for me.”
Graves said that when her team practiced on Monday it was Hourihan who reminded the team that of the 423 Division III women’s basketball programs, only 16 are practicing in preparation for a game this week and Springfield is one of them.
Enjoying the experience but also bringing confidence is what the Pride will bring into Kentucky for the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“I’m just really, really grateful that Springfield got to be back at the national level,” Graves said.
“As I said we were ranked nationally up at No. 9 so there’s no stopping us, I know Trine has a ranking fourth or fifth nationally but it’s okay because we were nine we’re right there so it just is what it is and on any given night any team can get beat.”
In the final D3hoops.com rankings of the season, Trine was No. 5 in the nation while Messiah was ranked No. 17 and Ithaca was No. 19.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics