Ed. Note — Portions of this story will appear in Thursday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune …
NORTH ANDOVER — The first NCAA Division II women’s basketball regional rankings were announced on Wednesday afternoon, with the Merrimack women’s basketball team sitting just outside of a tournament position at No. 9. The Warriors helped their cause on Wednesday night, with an important 75-66 win over No. 6 Stonehill at Hammel Court.
The win was Merrimack’s seventh in its last eight games. Merrimack (18-8) moved into fourth place in the NE10 standings — the Warriors are one game behind the Skyhawks for third —and locked up a playoff spot in the NE10 playoffs with the victory.
“It’s cliche coachspeak, but it’s really been about trusting the process,” said Merrimack head coach Monique LeBlanc. “Our focus really has been on getting better today at practice, and focusing on what we need to do today at practice. Take it day by day and make sure we’re getting better. They’ve been able to do a good job getting better every day, and now we’re playing better basketball. We need to stay engaged in the more monotonous details at this time of year because that’s where great teams get ahead. They’re not going to give up a wide open three in a critical moment.”
“We’re stepping up when the time comes,” added forward Denia Davis-Stewart, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. “It starts with defense. Our defense leads to our offense and we’re looking for stops. If we can get a stop, and move the ball around and stay composed, that should lead to the type of play we’re looking for.”
The Warriors trailed, 23-22, after a timeout with four minutes left in the first half before closing out the half with a 32-30 lead.
“If we’re struggling to score, at least we’re getting stops,” LeBlanc said. “It’s 23-22, we’re down at a timeout, and I told them that we’re doing awesome on D. We’re having a hard time scoring to start, but because we were not giving up a lot of shots, we were OK. The offense will come.”
Merrimack is currently one of the top-scoring teams in the region and has scored the most points in the NE10.
Lindsay Werner led the Warriors with 29 points and Andover native Alyssa Casey had 10 points on Wednesday.
Merrimack held the lead for nearly 32 of the game’s 40 minutes, working that lead up to as many as 21 points with 29 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Warriors outscored Stonehill by 17 points in the third quarter before the Skyhawks began to chip away at the lead midway through the fourth, and cut the third-quarter deficit in half.
“It’s really important to be calm in those moments, yet still have urgency,” said LeBlanc. “We were a little lackadaisical inbounding the ball, knowing they would be coming at us physical, looking to foul. I wasn’t pleased with how we handled those first few possessions late in the game, but we cleaned it up really quick, which was great to see.
“We need to be prepared to stretch out and be ready to defend; we can’t get caught up in false actions.”
Merrimack hosts Bentley (24-2) on Saturday at Hammel Court (1 p.m.). The Falcons are ranked No. 14 in the nation and were the No. 2 team in the regional rankings released on Wednesday. Saturday’s game will be the Warriors’ final home game before they finish the regular season on Tuesday (Feb. 26) at Saint Michael’s.
“We can’t get comfortable where we’re at,” Davis-Stewart added. “We need to keep our foot on the gas and keep going because you never know what teams can do, especially in this league.”