Loyola women fall short in final Fairfield claims MAAC with 59-53 victory

March 02, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The Loyola women's basketball team almost went the distance yesterday, but faltered just before the finish line.

In the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game, the Greyhounds lost to a familiar rival, Fairfield, 59-53, before a women's record crowd of 3,889.

The victory gives second-seeded Fairfield (20-9) an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament and helps atone for title-game defeats to Loyola here in 1994 and 1995.

"This is pretty much the worst loss I've ever had," said Loyola point guard Corey Hewitt. "But we made a big improvement from last year. Maybe next year will be our time."

Loyola finished 20-9 and equaled the school record for wins. With just one senior (Susan Bryce) on the roster, the Greyhounds' prospects for next season look promising.

"Their senior leadership was a big factor," said coach Pat Coyle, whose Loyola teams are 11-3 at the Pepsi Arena. "You expect that in a big game."

Jessica Grossarth made all the big shots for Fairfield, which never trailed after her three-pointer made it 22-20 in the first half.

The MAAC co-Player of the Year in 1997 also made a three-pointer to short-circuit what proved to be the Greyhounds' final rally (to a 50-48 deficit with six minutes left in the game).

It was a gritty test of attrition in which neither team shot particularly well.

Loyola committed 20 turnovers and missed at least a dozen layups that were falling in previous wins over Iona and top-seeded Siena.

"We talked about getting loose balls and seemed like we didn't get any," Coyle said. "But we never folded our tents. I couldn't be more proud. The heart of this team is incredible."

Fairfield's size was a problem for the Greyhounds' inside game. Erica Rath, Jennifer Bongard and Mary Ann Kirsch combined to hit only seven of 24 field-goal attempts.

That -- combined with foul trouble that claimed Rath and Bongard and left Kirsch playing with four personals -- was too much to overcome.

Jina Mosley carried most of the offense with 16 points off the bench and hit a put-back that kept the Greyhounds alive at 57-53 with a minute to play.

But Loyola missed its final four shots, and single free throws by Jennifer Natale and Holli Tapley put it away for the Stags, who split with Loyola during the regular season.

"Bring on Connecticut," said Grossarth with a smile, referring to the in-state power that overshadows the Stags.

In a more serious tone, she said that the key was that "every time they came close, we didn't panic. We calmed down and slowed everything. Once we did that, we felt something good was going to happen."

"We've been up here a lot crying," said Fairfield coach Dianne Nolan. "It's nice to have happy tears. This one feels very special."

The Stags' goal now is a breakthrough win in the NCAA tourney.

The MAAC tournament most valuable player was Fairfield's Page Driscoll, who scored 17 yesterday and was a steadying offensive influence.

"I felt she was the key," said Coyle. "She was very consistent and did a great job for them."

LOYOLA -- Rath 2-6 2-2 6, Bongard 2-6 2-2 7, Kirsch 3-12 1-5 7, Cooney 1-4 0-0 3, Hewitt 3-10, 0-0 8, Keeney 1-2 2-2 4, Mosley 5-12 6-8 16, Cohen 1-4 0-0 2, Bryce 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-56 13-19 53.

FAIRFIELD -- Nicholas 1-5 1-3 3, Driscoll 5-10 7-8 17, Strumpf 2-6 6-7 10, Natale 0-2 1-2 1, Grossarth 6-18 1-2 16, Tapley 2-3 1-2 7, O'Connor 0-1 0-0 0, Thorne 0-1 3-5 3, Williams 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 16-48 22-31 59.

Halftime--Fairfield 32-26. 3-point goals--Loyola 4-14 (Hewitt 2-8, Bongard 1-3, Cooney 1-3). Fairfield 5-13 (Tapley 2-3, Grossarth 3-8, Natale 0-1, Williams 0-1). Fouled out--Rath, Bongard. Rebounds--Loyola 41 (Kirsch 8), Fairfield 41 (Strumpf 10). Assists--Loyola 10 (Kirsch, Hewitt 3), Fairfield 9 (Tapley 4). Total fouls--Loyola 22, Fairfield 20. A--3,889.

Pub Date: 3/02/98

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