In its first year being played at Roanoke College, the Division III women’s basketball national championship will be contested by two teams who have had recent title game experience.
Bowdoin College, the 2018 Division III runner-up, and Thomas More, the 2016 champion, each earned a spot in Saturday’s championship game with semifinal victories on Friday night at the Cregger Center.
Division III player of the year Madison Temple rebounded from a slow start in the first half to lead No. 1 ranked Thomas More (32-0) to a 69-56 win over Scranton in the nightcap of a semifinal doubleheader.
Temple had only three points in the first half, but the Saints still entered the break with a 37-28 lead.
The Royals came out on fire to start the second half with a 12-1 outburst to take a 40-38 lead on a jumper by Hannah Kowalski at the 3:38 mark of the third quarter.
“It was a game of runs really,” Thomas More coach Jeff Hans said. “At the start of the third quarter we had good looks, but we couldn’t score. That’s a credit to Scranton.”
Soon after Scranton (29-3) moved in front, though, Temple took over the game. A jumper from Temple with 2:24 left in the third put the Saints back in front at 43-42, and Thomas More maintained the lead the rest of the night, as the senior guard totaled 17 second-half points to finish with a game-high 20 points.
“I feel like my mentality is to make plays. In the second half, I found myself open more,” Temple said. “When I have my shots I take them.”
Temple started her college career as a freshman member of the 2016 national title team and she says she’s excited to bookend her time at Thomas More, which is located in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, with another appearance as a senior.
“As a freshman my role wasn’t as big as it is now,” Temple said. “It’s great sharing this with my seniors and the whole team. Our chemistry has been awesome.”
In the opener, junior forward Maddie Hasson had 25 points and senior guard Abby Kelly contributed an additional 21 points to lead Bowdoin to a 71-60 victory over St. Thomas (Minn.) in a battle of 30-1 teams.
After building a 43-33 lead midway through the third quarter, the Polar Bears saw St. Thomas go an 18-6 run to take its first lead of the second half at 51-49 with 7:51 left in the fourth quarter.
Bowdoin, which is located in Brunswick, Maine, did not panic, closing the game on a 20-4 run to clinch its spot in Saturday 7:30 p.m. final.
“That was really a gritty performance by this team,” Bowdoin coach Adrienne Shibles said.
St. Thomas was led by 6-foot-2 center Hannah Spaulding, who finished with 17 points despite being in foul trouble throughout the contest and picking up her fifth foul in the game’s final minute.
“I think we frustrated her. She will always have her points, but she did seem to get frustrated,” Shibles said of her team’s defensive effort in the paint against Spaulding.
Bowdoin returns to the championship game after suffering a 65-45 loss to Amherst 12 months ago in the 2018 title game, played in Rochester, Minnesota.
“We’ve worked for this since we were here last year. This has been the goal at the end,” Kelly said.
“[Bowdoin] did a fantastic job,” St. Thomas coach Ruth Sinn said. “It was a game of plays, and they made the plays.”
Prior to the national championship, the first Division III WBCA All-Star Game will be held at the Cregger Center beginning at 5 p.m.
Among the game’s participants will be ODAC representatives Jayla Harris of Virginia Wesleyan and Taylor Blevins of Emory & Henry.