May 27, 2018
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Eagles, Mules feature former Lee standouts

By Pete Warner, BDN Staff

It will be a Lee Academy athletics reunion of sorts Friday night in Waterville.

Former Pandas stars Shelby (Pickering) Bradford, Amanda Gifford and Aarika Ritchie will play pivotal roles as their respective teams meet in the first round of the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship at Colby College.

Ritchie is the starting point guard New England Small College Athletic Conference runner-up Colby (23-4), the host for the four-team event, while Bradford and Gifford represent North Atlantic Conference champion Husson University of Bangor (19-8), the Mules’ Friday opponent.

Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Wadsworth Gymnasium.

During 2004-05, the aforementioned trio led Lee to state titles in cross country and basketball, with runner-up finishes in soccer and softball. They eventually accounted for seven state crowns and 12 EM titles.

“That group from Lee — and you’ve got Karin Bird at Thomas [College], too — had such a great run in high school,” said Lori Gear McBride, whose Colby team is making its first NCAA appearance. “They know how to win and they’re all doing well in college.”

Bradford, who was a senior at Lee when the others were freshmen, was named the NAC Player of the Year for the second straight season. Gifford, a transfer from Bates, is Husson’s starting point guard and was the NAC Tournament MVP.

Ritchie was the Mules’ No. 4 scorer and led the team in assists and steals.

Babson (25-3) and Emmanuel (22-5) play Friday’s 5 p.m. first-round contest, with the winners advancing to Saturday’s 7 p.m. second-round game.

In other NCAA Division III games involving Maine teams, Bowdoin College of Brunswick (20-6) hosts Baruch College (23-5) of New York City at 7 p.m. and the University of New England of Biddeford (23-5) and Western Connecticut (22-5) play at 5.

The winners meet Saturday at 7 p.m.

At Amherst, Mass., the University of Southern Maine of Gorham (20-8) takes on Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (17-10) in a 4 p.m. contest.

In Waterville, the Mules and Eagles meet for the second time this season. Colby beat Husson 88-58 on Jan. 9 behind a 19-point effort from 6-foot-1 senior swing player Alison Cappelloni, an All-NESCAC first-teamer who is averaging 12.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and shoots 46 percent on 3-pointers.

In that game, the Mules shot 52 percent from the floor, including 10-for-14 on 3-pointers, and 90 percent (18-for-20) from the foul line.

“Colby played phenomenal,” Husson coach Kissy Walker said. “I know we can play with them and I hope they don’t have that kind of a shooting night.”

Husson, whose nonconference opponents included seven NCAA tourney teams, has won 16 straight since that game.

This contest likely will hinge on whether Husson’s frontcourt players can contend with a taller Colby front line that includes 6-1 Rachael Mack of Augusta (10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg), 6-1 Julianne Kowalski (8.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and 6-3 Jill Vaughan (7.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

“We have talented post players and we try to get them the ball in a position to score as much as possible,” McBride said.

The Eagles, making the program’s second NCAA appearance, counter with the 5-8 Bradford (16.5 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 3.0 apg, 3.3 spg), 5-9 Bree Hanscom of Mattawamkeag (14.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and 5-10 Lindsay Barnes of Owls Head (4.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg).

“Shelby is a phenomenal player,” McBride said. “She is going to be a force that we will not take lightly, but they’re a well-balanced team.”

Colby also features Sam Allen of Bridgton, Ritchie and Diana Manduca of Portland. Other Husson mainstays are Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan and Noelle Lincoln of Dixmont.

In Brunswick, coach Adrienne Shibles’ Polar Bears, who earned their 10th straight NCAA berth, gained an at-large home bid.

Bowdoin is led by two NESCAC second-team choices in seniors Caitlin Hines of Owls Head (12.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Leah Rubega (9.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg). Its Maine contingent also includes Katie Bergeron of Bradley (9.5 ppg, 3.0 apg), Amy Hackett of Bangor (8.1 ppg) and Sabrina Cote of Dexter (4.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

Baruch won the City University of New York Athletics Conference title, beating Hunter College 93-84.

In the other game, UNE earned its way into the NCAAs by earning the Commonwealth Coast Conference automatic bid with a 75-62 win over Regis. The Nor’easters set a school record with 23 victories and gained their second NCAA berth.

UNE is led by Kelley Paradis of Newport (13.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Margo Russell of Madison (12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg).

Western Connecticut earned the Little East Conference automatic bid by beating Southern Maine 61-46 and is in the tournament for the second year in a row. The Colonials look to 6-2 Melissa Teel (14.3 ppg, 14.6 rpg, 129 blocked shots), the LEC Player of the Year, to lead the way.

At Amherst, Mass., Southern Maine is back in the NCAA picture for the 16th consecutive season. Coach Gary Fifield’s Huskies, the LEC runners-up, earned an at-large bid.

USM is paced by LEC Rookie of the Year and first-team selection Curran Leighton, who averaged 16.4 points and 8.8 rebounds. Other key players are Kaylie DeMillo of Jay (11.6 ppg, 3.1 apg), Haylie Johnson (9.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Nicole Paradis of Skowhegan (7.5 ppg, 3.1 apg).

RPI, of Troy, N.Y., annexed the title in the Liberty League, beating Skidmore 51-37 in the championship contest.

The Engineers, making their second NCAA appearance, are paced by Whitney Coleman (17.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 4.0 apg) and Allison Connor (10.7 ppg).

The victor draws the winner of the Amherst-Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in Saturday’s 5 p.m. game.

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