NORTH ANDOVER — After a transfer, some injuries and the graduation of a big senior class, the Merrimack women’s basketball team opened the season last month with an entirely new starting five.
Last night at home, the Warriors got one of those starters back in the lineup and the Warriors closed a 17-point gap in the third quarter, but Bentley, who is ranked No. 8 nationally, pulled away for an 80-59 win at Hammel Court.
The Warriors, who have been ravaged by injuries to start the season, fell to 5-5 (3-4 in the NE10), while Bentley, probably the top team in the NE10, improved to 10-1 (9-1 in the NE10).
“There’s a little bit of a feeling out period when you’re up against a ranked team,” Merrimack head coach Monique LeBlanc said. “I think we competed well in spots and we had a great third quarter. We had some stops, but we just weren’t consistently getting those stops. They’re a great team. They have seven kids who are a legit threat from three. Most of the time we’re worried about one or two shooters, and now today we’re saying we need to watch out for these seven.”
Merrimack had a shooter itself. Freshman Mayson Kimball had a career high 28 points (her previous high was 12 points), hitting five of seven shots from beyond the arc. Fellow rookies Alyssa Casey (7 points) and Marissa Gattuso (4 assists) also contributed.
“All of the freshmen played pretty loose, which is great,” LeBlanc said. “Our rookies came out and they played loose and well. Mayson is capable of that type of game, so it was a good breakout night for her.”
The Warriors also saw the return of sophomore Denia Davis-Stewart, a dominant post presence who missed the first nine games of the season with an injury.
Davis-Stewart, known as “Sticks” in the Merrimack locker room, played 21 minutes and finished with six rebounds and four blocks.
LeBlanc said that her return to the lineup came together quickly, and it wasn’t decided until earlier in the day that she would make her debut against the Falcons on Tuesday.
“We didn’t expect her to be playing tonight, but we found out yesterday that she had advanced enough in her progression,” LeBlanc said. “I wasn’t sure if she thought she could be available. She hasn’t practiced a lot. I thought maybe she needed a week but she said she wanted to play and she’s back to her hold tricks with six rebounds and four blocks. She definitely had an impact.”
The Warriors are off until next Tuesday when they host Bridgeport in a non-conference game at Hammel Court.
“We’re still working on our identity as a group,” LeBlanc said. “I’m disappointed in the 80 points we gave up, because defense is always something we hang our hat on.”
Bentley (10-1, 9-1 NE10): 18-21-19-22—80 Merrimack (5-5, 3-4 NE10): 10-13-24-12—59 Merrimack (59): Alyssa Casey 3-0-7; Karlee Avles 2-1-5; Lindsay Werner 3-7-13; Alyssa Torres 0-0-0; Mayson Kimball 10-3-28; Emily Houle 1-0-3; Marissa Gattuso 0-0-0; Cecilia Reyes 0-0-0; Denia Davis-Stewart 1-0-3; Kathryn Roberts 0-0-0; Totals 20-12-59. Bentley (80): Lauren Green 4-0-11; Cassie Smith 1-0-3; Macchi Smith 3-5-12; Becca Musgrove 5-3-14; Victoria Lux 6-5-17; Lauryn Griffin 1-0-2; Katie Meriggioli 0-0-0; Amy McConnell 0-0-0; Julia Ford 0-0-0; Monica Via piano 4-1-9; Megan Lewis 1-0-2; Maddy Springfield 0-1-1; Trevena Bennett 2-0-6; Marissa Fontaine 1-0-3; Totals 28-15-80. Rebounds: 49-38 Bentley