Yarde leads Marist over Fairfield, 66-49Mar 7, 2010 - 8:30 PM By JOHN KEKIS AP Sports Writer
ALBANY, N.Y.(AP) -- Even with the weight of so many past league titles on their collective shoulders, the Marist Red Foxes rose to the occasion one more time.
Corielle Yarde scored 17 points, tournament MVP Rachele Fitz added 15 and Erica Allensbach had 13 as Marist beat Fairfield 66-49 on Sunday to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women's title for the fifth straight time.
It was the seventh straight title appearance for the top-seeded Red Foxes (26-7), with their only loss in the championship game a 60-59 setback to Canisius in 2005.
"Since December, we have been the hunted," Marist coach Brian Giorgis said. "If you don't win by 25, there's something wrong. It's nice to be the hunter again."
"A lot of people doubted us," added Fitz, who was hampered by foul trouble and had only four rebounds, matching her season low. "I think it gave us more heat under our skin, whatever. I think it helped having people against us."
Marist beat fifth-seeded Niagara 69-47 in the semifinals, holding the Purple Eagles scoreless over the final 5 1/2 minutes and finishing the game on a 10-0 run.
The Red Foxes were challenged in this one by the Stags (19-13), who went cold when the game was on the line after staying within four points through the first 32 minutes.
"Because we have a decent number of young kids on our team, when things kind of start to get away from you, their minds start to lose focus a little bit and things get on too high a speed," Fairfield coach Joe Frager said. "You just try to calm them down a little bit and just try to remind them that let's just try to do the things we've done all season that got us into this position."
Fairfield, which handed Marist one of its three conference losses during the season, shot 10 of 27 in the second half, hitting just 2 of 10 shots from beyond the arc and 3 of 20 for the game.
Desiree Pina led third-seeded Fairfield with 16 points, while Katelyn Linney and Stephanie Geehan each had 10. Tara Flaherty finished with six points and 10 rebounds for the Stags, whose nine-game winning streak came to an end despite dominating the offensive glass 15-6.
"We made the last third of the season our own season and we ended up winning nine in a row," Flaherty said. "We couldn't ask for anything more than that. The team really came together. We finished second in the conference. I think that's pretty impressive. You know, if we can't get first, I'll take second."
Fairfield, which trailed 34-24 at halftime, rallied to within four points in the first 5 minutes of the second half as Marist went 1 of 8 from the floor. Pina hit a foul line jumper and fed Linney for a 3 from the right corner to move the Stags to 37-33 at 15:20.
Marist boosted its lead to 46-38 midway through the period after a Fitz block in the lane on Linney led to a fastbreak layup by Yarde. But a driving layup off the glass by Linney and a wide-open layup by Flaherty had the Stags back to 48-44 with 8:30 left.
That was as close as the Stags could manage as they missed their next eight shots and the Red Foxes took control with a 9-0 run.
Allenspach began it with a 3 from the right wing at 7:35, Fitz hit a layup, and Allenspach followed with a pair of free throws and a layup off an inbounds pass to boost the Marist lead to 57-44 with 4:34 to go.
"I needed to make one, give our team a spark," said Allenspach, who was 4 of 11 shooting and had five steals. "We knew defense was going to win this championship. I wasn't making shots, but defense is what I can control."
Fairfield went without a basket for nearly 8 minutes after Flaherty's layup, missing 11 straight shots in all. The Stags' lone points until Pina's layup with 53 seconds left came on her three free throws after she was fouled shooting a 3.
The score was tied four times in the first seven minutes as neither team led by more than four and Geehan played Fitz to a standstill.
A three-point play by Taryn Johnson moved Fairfield to 23-22 with 8:05 left in the opening half. The Red Foxes then closed the period with an 11-2 spurt as the Stags sputtered, missing six straight shots and committing three turnovers.
Brandy Gang, averaging just 3.3 points, keyed the rally with six straight points to give Marist a 34-22 lead. Pina's runner with a minute left in the half stopped a 7-minute scoreless drought for the Stags.
"I'm really proud of our team and how we came together over the last part of the season," said Geehan, defensive player of the year in the conference. "Obviously, not the result we wanted at the end of it, but I think we took one game at a time, didn't get ahead of ourselves."
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