Make some room in the trophy case, because the women’s basketball team is coming back from the MIAC championship game with some hardware.
It took an overtime period to decide it, but St. Thomas is the new MIAC champion. The Tommies beat four-time defending MIAC champion St. Benedict’s 65-62 at the College of St. Benedict Saturday, securing an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s unreal,” sophomore Ali Johnson said. “We hit some bumps along the road but found out in the end that we can do it.”
Sophomore Sarah Smith made a lay-up with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game and force overtime. St. Benedict junior Amy Stifter had a chance at the winning shot as time expired, but her running 15-foot jumper came up short.
St. Thomas outscored the Blazers 10-7 in overtime, capped by two clutch free throws from Smith with 7.3 seconds left to stretch the St. Thomas lead to three. St. Benedict had no timeouts after Smith’s free throws, and Stifter’s desperation attempt to tie was off the mark. The Tommies rushed to center court after the buzzer sounded, where a few minutes later they hoisted the MIAC championship trophy above their heads.
“It feels great,” Smith said. “I would love to go to Disneyland again.”
Smith had a career game for the Tommies, posting a game-high 20 points along with junior Rachel Booth and adding nine rebounds as well.
“We figured they were going to double her [Booth] the whole time, so we knew forwards were going to have a chance to post up,” Smith said. “We took advantage of that tonight.”
Stifter led the Blazers with 13 points, but neither of her two most important shots found the bottom of the net.
St. Benedict will await the announcement of the NCAA tournament field Monday to determine if it will receive an at-large bid. St. Thomas is guaranteed a spot in the tournament, and will most likely play on the road. Luckily for the Tommies, road games do not seem to be an issue.
“To us, the road game are like home,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t phase us, I guess, because when you don’t have a home court, it doesn’t really matter.”
St. Thomas won all three games in the MIAC tournament on the road, with wins over Macalester and Gustavus to reach the championship game. Entering the playoffs as the five seed, the Tommies were the lower seed in all three games.
“[This postseason’s] been chaos,” Smith said. “But that’s how we love it. It’s been so much fun.”
Perhaps most impressive about St. Thomas’ postseason run are the players who accomplished it. The Tommies sport a roster with just one senior, so playoff experience isn’t exactly plentiful. Coach Ruth Sinn said it shows a lot about her team to be able to pull out close playoff wins with such a short experience resume.
“We’re still getting better because we’re so young,” Sinn said. “I told the girls it’s going to be a crazy, fun atmosphere and you just have to enjoy it and get excited for the opportunity to be involved in this.”
St. Thomas took advantage of the opportunity and snatched the title from the playoff-tested Blazers team. Johnson is excited for what that means for years to come.
“In Division III basketball you win with your juniors and seniors, and we’re winning with sophomores and juniors,” she said. “Who knows what the future can bring.”
For now, it has brought a MIAC title to a team that played its entire season without a home court. Next season, when St. Thomas tips off on its new home court at the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex, it will be as defending MIAC champions.
Jordan Osterman can be reached at email@example.com.