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Back-to-Back PSAC Champs!

Published: 03/07/2022

Your Gannon women's basketball team - back-to-back PSAC champions!

Your Gannon women's basketball team - back-to-back PSAC champions!

A composed and mature Gannon women's basketball team turned in another suffocating defensive effort on Sunday afternoon to win its second straight PSAC Championship and punch its ticket to the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Tournament. In an All-PSAC West title game, the Golden Knights, the second seed out of the Western Division, handed top-seeded Cal a 59-47 loss at Kutztown's Keystone Arena.

Gannon has now won three PSAC championships, all under head coach Cleve Wright. They won the 2020 PSAC title with a 50-40 win at Indiana(Pa.). There was no PSAC season in 2020-21 due to the coronavirus. The Golden Knights are the first repeat champion since Cal won back-to-back crowns in 2015 and 2016.

The Golden Knights improved to 24-6 with the win, and in the process snapped the Vulcans 10-game winning streak. Cal is now 24-5. The two teams had split the two regular season meetings, with each winning on the other's homecourt. The Vulcans came into the weekend ranked second in the latest NCAA Division II Atlantic Region rankings, while Gannon was sixth. On Saturday, the Knights defeated the third-ranked team in the region, Kutztown, in the semifinals.

Defense was the name of the game for the Golden Knights in the PSAC Tournament, as they held Pitt-Johnstown to 44 points in a quarterfinal win, followed by 47 points to both Kutztown and Cal.

The contest was tight for three quarters before Gannon smothered the Vulcans in the final ten minutes, outscoring them 13-4. Cal did not score a point over the final 5 minutes, 49 seconds. Ciaira Loyd's driving layup pulled the Vulcans to within five points at 52-47 at that point.

In fact, Gannon would score just one basket over the final six minutes, but the Golden Knights got Cal into early foul trouble in the final period and made 5 of 6 free throws after that. Leading 48-45, Emily Poling (Defiance, Ohio/Defiance) and Delaney Dogan (West Middlesex, Pa./West Middlesex) converted layups for a 52-45 advantage. Loyd's layup would follow, but it was all Gannon after that. Emma Wright (Fairview, Pa./Talawanda) made a pair of free throws, with Sydney Mitchell (Halethorpe, Md./Seton Keough) converting one of two at the charity stripe. When Samantha Pirosko (Eastlake, Ohio/Eastlake North) made a tough layup, Gannon's lead was ten at 57-47 with 2:27 remaining. Poling tacked on the final points with a pair of free throws with 44 seconds remaining.     

Cal scored the first five points of the game, but the Golden Knights would tie the score at 14-14 at the end of the first quarter on Poling's jumper. Tied at 16 early in the second quarter, Gannon scored nine straight points to grab the lead.

Wright began the run with a 3-pointer, and Pirosko followed with a free throw. Poling's pullup jumper was followed by Wright's third 3-pointer of the afternoon to make it 25-16 with 5:21 remaining in the half. Wright would shortly after that with two fouls and the Vulcans inched back to within 28-24 at intermission in a half that featured six ties.

The third quarter did not get off to a good start for Gannon, as the Golden Knights had four turnovers and two missed shots on their first six possessions. Cal took advantage to score the first six points and charge ahead 30-28.

That's when Pirosko came alive. The first team All-PSAC West performer had a tough first half, missing all six of her field goal attempts while scoring three points from the line. The 5'10" sophomore finally hit her first shot, stepping outside to bury a 3-pointer for a 31-30 lead. Cal regained the lead one last time on a pair of free throws, but a Pirosko drive gave the lead back to Gannon for good and ignited a 10-3 run. Tied at 35-35, the Golden Knights worked the offense to perfection and scored on three straight layups. The first was by Pirosko, the second by Ali Benim (Erie, Pa./Harbor Creek), and Pirosko contributed the third. Gannon led 46-43 after three quarters with Pirosko scoring 11 points in the period.

Wright, Pirosko and Poling were all in double figures for the Golden Knights. It turned out to a very special weekend for Wright. The graduate student was presented the PSAC Champion Scholar Award prior to yesterday's semifinal game, and on Sunday she was selected the Tournament MVP. That after a game-high 19-point effort, with 15 of those points in the first half as she did not miss a shot. The 5'11" guard made 5 of 9 field goals, including 3 of 5 3-pointers, and was 6 of 7 at the line. She added four rebounds along with her trademark outstanding defense.

Pirosko overcame the slow start to finish with her fourth double double, and third in the last three games. She totaled 16 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists. It was her 12th double-figure effort in the last 13 games. Poling, meanwhile, finished with 13 points, making 4 of 8 field goals, including a 3-pointer, and going 4-for-4 at the charity stripe.

Gannon shot 40.0 percent from the floor (20 of 40), making 5 of 14 3-pointers and going 14 of 17 at the line. The Golden Knights had 13 assists in 20 baskets. Cal was held to 32.1 percent from the floor (18 of 56), with a 2 of 10 chart on 3-pointers. The Vulcans were 9 of 14 at the line. Gannon won the rebound battle, 40-32, with 29 defensive boards. The Golden Knights were guilty of 18 turnovers and Cal 14.

Deja Terrell led Cal with 17 points, but the PSAC West Athlete of the Year was held to 6 of 23 from the floor. She added a game-high 14 rebounds. Loyd finished with 15 points.

With a ticket to the dance in hand, Gannon will now learn who its opponent will be and where it will play in the Atlantic Regional when the NCAA announces the Division II playoff field later tonight.

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-Bob Shreve, Assistant Director of Athletics Media Relations

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