It was one of those "not pretty, but got the job done" type of efforts Thursday night for the York College women's basketball team. At this point in the season, though, it's all about surviving and advancing, just as the Spartans did with a 73-65 win over visiting Marymount in a Capital Athletic Conference tournament semifinal inside a packed Grumbacher Center.
With the victory, York (24-2) advanced to the conference title game for the third time in four years, having last been there in 2012 and last won it in 2011. The Spartans, ranked No. 12 in NCAA Division III by d3hoops.com, will host No. 20 Christopher Newport (22-4) on Saturday at 2 p.m. for the conference championship.
"I'm just really proud of these kids on how hard they've worked, especially the seniors who have just been so steady for the past four years," York College coach Betsy Witman said. "To be hosting the championship because we earned it really means a lot."
By now, everyone likely knows about the group of seniors Witman is referring to: point guard Aja Wallpher, guard Kelsey Murphy and forwards Kristen Haley and Brittany Hicks. The veteran quartet proved to be the difference again Thursday against Marymount (17-10), the defending conference tournament champions.
Murphy, York's all-time 3-point leader, did a terrific job defending Marymount leading scorer Kaitlyn Fischer (13 points), who also holds the all-time conference record in career 3-pointers.
"We put Kelsey Murphy on her (Fischer) and really tried to hedge on as many screens as we could to slow her down and not let her turn the corner," Witman said. "I thought Kelsey did an excellent job. She (Fischer) had zero points at halftime. It was the other guards that were killing us."
York shot an impressive 57.7 percent from the floor (15 for 26) in the first half, including 6 of 11 from 3-point land, to lead 43-30 at intermission. Guard Sam Hruz had three of those trays as the 6-foot freshman came off the bench to score all of her 11 points in the opening half.
But Marymount hung around the entire night thanks to a combined six 3-pointers from starter Aileen Maknati (15 points) and bench player Daja Belt (13 points). Plus, York's 22 turnovers didn't help matters.
"Yeah, we played a little sloppy and Marymount was certainly very aggressive," Witman said. "They were down by 10, 15 points and they needed to get out in the passing lanes and they did a good job."
In what seems customary for this club, Haley (19 points, seven rebounds) and Hicks (18 points, 10 rebounds) stepped up again down the stretch, combining for 20 of York's 30 second-half points. The duo also achieved milestones Thursday as both surpassed the 1,500 career points mark. As her alma mater won its ninth-straight District 3-AA title in Hershey, York Catholic grad Hicks extended her program record in career double-doubles to 40.
In a five-minute stretch, Haley scored seven straight points on three layups and a free throw to give the Spartans a 63-52 advantage with 2:51 remaining.
"I think we noticed they were playing a smaller lineup," Haley said. "Their one big girl (Miranda Krott) was out with foul trouble. With the lineup they had in either me or Brit' is gonna be able to take them inside. They can't stop both of us at the same time if they play a smaller lineup."
From there, Wallpher (seven points, seven assists, eight rebounds), Murphy (eight points) and Hicks combined to go 10-for-10 at the foul line to close out the game.
Now it's on to Saturday's title game against new conference member Christopher Newport, a squad that split the head-to-head regular-season matchups against York.
"With the four of us being seniors we know it's do-or-die right now," Haley said. "We could still get a bid to the (NCAA) tournament if we didn't win, but obviously we want to get another banner while we're here."
Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.