Cinderella Rider Tops Fairfield To Advance to First MAAC Championship Game
After becoming Cinderella on opening night in mid-November when Rider went up the road and pounced on nearby Princeton, the Broncs are now just 40 minutes of game time away in Albany, N.Y., from exchanging their glass slippers for those of the finest quality.
That’s right, having removed one of the only two thorns from their magical season by rallying over Fairfield 49-36 in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Contest semifinal at the Times Union Center Sunday afternoon, all it takes is applying the same spell to top-seeded Quinnipiac in the championship contest at 5 p.m. Monday on ESPNU and coach Lynn Milligan’s second-seeded squad will received the standard issue Big Dance ticket in the form of an automatic bid.
It will be quite the achievement if it happens in a season of many since Quinnipiac (26-6) has won all nine games lifetime in the series with Rider (24-7), which was picked for 10th by the MAAC coaches in the preseason poll back in the fall.
Sunday’s win for the Broncs was the 13th away from Alumni Gymnasium.
Rider’s next task was almost a little simpler since Quinnipac, which joined the MAAC from the Northeast Conference for the 2013-14 season, had to rally over Iona in the other semifinal game to get to the championship.
Just think, most of the way the Broncs players have been about applying the legacy for what they have done and now it seems they have a chance to embrace their own destiny.
As the late great NHL Flyers coach Fred Shero once said to his Philly team: Win Now and We Will Walk Together Forever.
“I’m a little bit at a loss for words, Milligan said after the latest highlight in her 10th anniversary season heading the program on the campus in Lawrenceville, N.J., near Trenton, the state capital.
“I’m excited we gave ourselves the opportunity to be playing tomorrow and excited about the grit and never say attitude of this team. We have 15 young ladies who believe in each other so much,” Milligan continued.
“I hope it’s as obvious to the people watching the game as it is to us because it’s an absolute privilege to coach these kids every day knowing the effort that we are going to get.”
The job got done in the final stanza as the Broncs recovered their mojo and used an 18-2 run to rally into the championship, a game Rider has never appeared.
A week ago the regular season had ended on a bit of a downer when the Broncs fell short of Fairfield in a late rally in Connecticut that deprived them of sharing the regular season title with Quinnipiac.
The loss also gave the Stags (17-14) a sweep in the series, having gained a one-point victory in overtime at Rider early on the MAAC schedule.
Also early in the MAAC race, Quinnipiac executed a sweep, which ultimately landed the Bobcats the No. 1 seed.
But along the way, as the Broncs began piling up MAAC victories and winning at places that hadn’t happened since before the current undergraduate student population was born, Quinnipac took a couple of stumbles and so the two teams became locked at the top of the standings until last Sunday.
The Bobcats finished with a MAAC record of 17-3 while Rider was 16-4.
As it was in coming down the stretch, Rider was already looking at a chance at some postseason glory with a guarantee, especially as of Sunday, to land in the 64-team WNIT, which has gained more respect in recent seasons.
The only major disruption several weeks ago was the sidelining of MAAC player of the year Robin Perkins with a foot injury but Rider continued to win with a special bond among Perkins’ teammates.
On Sunday senior center Julia Duggan had her fifth straight double double with 15 points and 20 rebounds, the latter being the second most in MAAC tournament history.
Overall Duggan has a conference-best 12 double doubles.
Also scoring in double figures against the Stags were Kamilia Hoskova and Lexi Posset with 11 points each.
By applying the tenacious defense the Broncs have used all season, just one Fairfield player, Casey Smith, scored in double figures with 13 points.
For most of the afternoon the game was a low-scoring plodding affair.
At the outset the Broncs rushed to an 8-0 start and finish the first period 10-2.
Fast starts were a trademark early in the season to spur several winning streaks not seen in several decades.
Fairfield got untracked in the second period, though at the half Rider still held the advantage 17-13.
The Stags then threatened to make it 3-0 on the Broncs for the season taking an 18-17 lead in the third. Later in the period, an 8-0 run would put Fairfield up 28-25 with just one remaining 10-minute period left for Rider to recover the Broncs’ act of earlier in the game.
Did they ever.
Meanwhile, prior to the other semifinal, Quinnipiac had almost met with disaster before rallying from an eight-point deficit to beat Canisius 63-58 in the quarterfinals.
Then in Sunday’s semifinals, the Bobcats had to come back from a 10-points deficit to an Iona team that topped them in last season’s MAAC championship.