By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The St. Joseph's College women's basketball team won the Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (HVIAC) championship, defeating Albany Pharmacy 74-63 behind a 28-point performance by senior Samantha Retas in Albany on Sunday.
“We started off great, but aside from one or two runs, we really controlled the game and put it away late,” said Bears head coach Frank Carbone. “The tough part was the atmosphere in their arena. The crowd was crazy. It seemed like we were up against a lot of odds, so it was particularly gratifying to beat them.”
St. Joseph’s got off to a hot start behind seniors Retas and Taylor Raccuglia as well as freshman Destiny Marino, who combined to score 29 points in the first half. The Bears were up 27-19 when Retas sprained her ankle and was forced to leave the game. She would only miss a couple of minutes, but Albany Pharmacy cut the lead to two points in her absence.
“If you saw her reaction when it first happened, we thought she was done,” Carbone said. “Sam is a trooper; unless we have to amputate, she is going to go back out there. She went out, we had to adjust, and they took advantage. That's why when she gave me the thumbs up, I put her in right away.”
With Retas back in the game for the final couple of minutes, St. Joseph’s was able to increase the lead back to seven points by halftime.
Albany Pharmacy made another run early in the second half and briefly led 45-43, but Raccuglia hit a jumper to tie it at 13:57. Retas hit another jumper to go up 30 seconds later, and the Bears never trailed again, eventually winning the game.
Retas scored 17 points in the second half for St. Joseph's and was named MVP of the game after she finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds — her 14th double-double of the season. Retas also picked up her 1,000th rebound of her career during the game. The day before, she scored her 1,000th point against New Rochelle, which means she’s now in St. Joseph’s exclusive 1,000/1,000 club.
“I told myself that I had to have my best game of the season,” Retas said. “This was my last championship game I’ll ever play in college so I wanted to do everything I could to win. My ankle really hurt, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. There was no way I was going to sit out the rest of the game.”
The Bears also got major efforts from Raccuglia — who finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and four blocks — and Marino, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. Samantha Simon had eight points, Erica Eddy had seven and Brittany Cervino had four assists and two points.
This was the second HVIAC title for St. Joseph's in the last three years and its sixth conference championship in the school's history. That will be its final HVIAC title as it is leaving the conference and will play in the Skyline Conference next season.
After the game, Carbone reflected back to the end of last season when he lost his best two players, seniors Megan Moran and Kelly McNamee, and said he didn’t think that he would be celebrating a championship this year. He admitted that there were times this season when he didn’t expect the team to make it, but he explained that eventually everyone fell perfectly into their roles.
“Sam (Retas) and Taylor (Raccuglia) stepped up their games in a huge way this year,” Carbone said. “Everybody fell into their roles perfectly this year as well. Everyone knew what their specialty was and what they could contribute. It's tough to get everybody to fall into their roles like that, but that’s when you can accomplish something special.”
The Bears are now waiting to find out if they qualify for the USCAA tournament. The men's team got a bid on Monday, but the women’s team only got a conditional bid, so they will have to wait until Wednesday night to find out if they play in the national tournament.