The America East playoffs began on Saturday at Binghamton.
One of the best rivalries in the conference wrote a new page in its storied history. The UNH Wildcats faced off against the Maine Black Bears in a No. 2-seed against No. 7-seed matchup. Despite some impressive individual efforts and enormous energy and heart, UNH fell 58-47.
The Wildcats finish their season 12-18 overall and 5-10 in conference play. Despite a late season surge, UNH couldn’t manage any postseason magic this year. The team’s record may not show it, but the Wildcats were competitive all year long and they proved they could be a top team in the league.
A great first quarter by Maine proved to foreshadow the outcome. The Wildcats found themselves up three at one point in the first quarter but trailed 21-14 at the end of the period. UNH has had a hard time coming out of the gate all year long and Saturday was no different. The seven-point deficit proved to be too much for the ‘Cats to comeback from.
Senior Elizabeth Belanger led the game in scoring with 23 points. Belanger ends her career as the fifth all-time in scoring and seventh in rebounds. Sophomore Carlie Pogue and freshman Ashley Storey led the way down low with 17 points and 10 rebounds combined.
An inability to come out of the locker room and play great basketball has plagued the Wildcats all year. Another slow start in the second half proved to ruin all chances for a Wildcat comeback. The ‘Cats only scored nine third quarter points, but their defense only allowed six points. UNH only trailed by three points heading into the final frame.
Maine’s offensive explosion was too much for UNH. Maine improved their second half scoring total with 19 fourth quarter points, while the Wildcats notched 11 points in the final quarter. The Black Bears were able to control their lead despite the constant Wildcat pressure.
Maine advanced to a semifinal matchup against Stony Brook.
Maine defeated Stony Brook on Sunday, March 6, by a score of 51-48 and will face top seed Albany in the America East Championships. Albany throttled the Binghamton Bearcats by a final score of 79-43 after cruising past Hartford 60-40 in the first round of the playoffs.
UNH’s loss marked the end to two valuable Wildcats’ careers. Belanger and Stephanie Spoto finished their time with the UNH program and leave a legacy on and off the curt.
The ‘Cats’ youthful talent gives some signs that the program may bounce back next year.
Albany and Maine will face off at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 11 for the America East crown.