Raiders Making Run at PL Playoffs

Heading into one of the biggest sports weekends of the year, the Raider women’s basketball team hoped to prolong its two-game winning streak against Patriot League foe Bucknell. Sitting in a tie for fourth place with Navy, Colgate knew it needed a strong showing to contend with the league-leading Bison on Saturday afternoon.

In front of the home crowd, which included notable basketball alumni, who returned to Hamilton for the weekend, the women came out ready to avenge an early season loss to the Bison. The Raiders kept pace with Bucknell throughout the first half, but had no answer for the Bison in the second stanza, falling by a score of 81-63.

The Bison came out hot in the first half, opening up an early 9-3 lead by the 17:44 mark. Unfazed, the Raiders stormed back with a 10-4 run that knotted the score at 13 – with the drive highlighted by a coast-to-coast drive by senior guard Megan Ballard. For the next 10 minutes the Raiders and Bison engaged in a see-saw battle, as a series of lead changes led to a 28-26 Bucknell lead at the 4:31 mark. Senior guard Megan Curtin punctuated the half by connecting on a long range three-point shot that left her hands just before the buzzer sounded to give Colgate a 35-34 lead heading into the half.

Colgate came out in the second half with five quick points to take a 40-34 advantage; however, from this point on it was all Bucknell. Thanks to 57 percent shooting and a decisive 25-10 run, Bucknell put the Raiders away.

The Raiders were led by sophomore Melanie Cargle, Curtin and first-year Gretchen Polinski, each of whom netted 13 points in the loss. On the boards, sophomore Shevorne Martin collected six caroms.

Looking to bounce back, the team returned to Cotterell Court on Tuesday evening to face Lafayette. Led by balanced scoring and standout play from Ballard and Polinski, the Raiders secured a crucial 76-70 win.

Colgate came out strong in the first half and built up a 35-30 lead heading into the intermission. The women were efficient on offense and also dictated the tempo of the game with strong defensive play.

The second half saw tremendous swings in momentum. Lafayette stormed out of the gates, riding the heels of a 14-2 run to gain a 46-37 lead. The Leopard lead continued to swell thanks to the hot shooting hands of its starting guards. Sensing that the game was slipping away, Raider head coach Kristen Hughes called a timeout.

“Team fouls were really killing us in the beginning of the second half,” Hughes admitted. “I stressed to the team to pick up their defensive intensity and the girls certainly listened.”

Emerging from the huddle, the players looked reenergized and the team began a devastating 21-0 run that started on the defensive end. During that span, Colgate forced seven Lafayette turnovers and limited the Leopards to just 11 points for the remainder of the game.

Offensively, it was a notable night for Ballard, who went to the foul line a school-record 21 times and scored 14 of her team-high 25 points from the charity stripe. On the defensive side, Ballard’s six steals upped her all-time total to 261, only two shy of school record.

“As a senior, Megan is laying it all out there,” Hughes said. “She has unbelievable strength and speed and all of her extra time in the gym is starting to pay off.”

Another key contributor to the victory was Polinski, who is really starting to emerge as a leader on the team. She scored 17 points and was one rebound shy of another double-double.

“Gretchen plays well beyond her years,” Hughes said. “She is the type of player who wants the ball in her hands with time winding down on the clock. She has a great mentality as an athlete and it will be exciting to see what she does in her next few years.”

Cargle also supplied a balancing force throughout the game for the Raiders. She had a solid all-around performance, contributing 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Colgate is heading towards the end of its regular season schedule, with only five games remaining.

“Our goal is to finish these five games strong,” Hughes said. “[We need to] focus each day, but remember that we are ultimately striving for the Patriot League Championship.”

This weekend, Colgate heads to Washington D.C. on Sunday to take on American in hopes of avenging an early season loss.