By John Torenli Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Northeast Conference doesn't have the St. Francis women's college basketball team to kick around anymore.
From perennial cellar dwellers to legitimate contenders, the Terriers (10-13, 7-5 NEC) have won a season-high three in a row, including Tuesday night's 68-57 triumph over Bryant in Smithfield, R.I.
Buoyed by the arrival of first-year coach John Thurston and the emergence of sophomore guard Eilidh Simpson, St. Francis, which managed just four wins all of last season, is currently fifth in the NEC standings and has reached double digits in the wins for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign.
Simpson, the reigning NEC Player of the Week, scored a game-high 22 points against Bryant just three days after netting 23 against neighborhood rival LIU-Brooklyn in another big win at Remsen Street's Pope Center on Saturday.
"Eilidh stepped up big for us again tonight," noted Thurston, who will lead the Terriers back into action Saturday at Monmouth.
Second-year forward Sarah Benedetti, still averaging a team-best 12.4 points per game, was limited to only three Tuesday night, but the Terriers, as they have done thoughout the season, found a way to come from behind and pull the win. Freshman sensation Leah Fuchko scored 14 of her 16 points after intermission for St. Francis, which began its current streak with a double-overtime triumph over Robert Morris on Feb. 4.
"Teams are denying Sarah by double-teaming her, which ultimately leaves someone open," added Thurston.
With three decades of coaching experience, Thurston has kept the Terriers on an even keel by re-affirming his one-game-at-a-time philosophy.
"We don't start to look ahead," he said after the Terriers topped the Blackbirds, 70-62. "We try to get ourselves mentally prepared for the game at hand, and if we play hard and shoot well we will be in the contest."
Thanks to the ongoing brilliance of senior forward Jamal Olasewere, the LIU-Brooklyn men's team is closing in on a shot at its third consecutive Northeast Conference championship.
Olasewere, coming off his second NEC Player of the Week award, had two big baskets down the stretch Sunday as the Blackbirds beat the Terriers, 83-75, at Barclays Center to complete a season sweep of their neighborhood rivals.
The 6-foot-7 Maryland native made a nifty spin move in the lane to put LIU ahead for good with just under a minute-and-a-half to play and added a banker with 28 seconds left that sealed the deal for LIU, which has won eight of nine since a season-high six-game skid threatened to kill its chances of an NEC three-peat and yet another trip to the NCAA Championships.
Finishing with 20 points, Olasewere lifted LIU into sole possession of third place in the league standings, just 1 1/2 lengths behind NEC-leading Bryant with six conference games remaining, including Thursday's visit to Monmouth.
The Brooklyn College women's team will roll into this weekend's CUNYAC Championships on a season-high 11-game winning streak after conquering CCNY, 64-27, on Tuesday night in Manhattan.
The Lady Bulldogs (20-5 overall, 14-2 CUNYAC) will be the No. 2 seed in the tournament. BC will host CCNY again at the West Quad Center on Saturday in the CUNYAC quarterfinals.
Junior forward Vanessa D'Ambrosi of Park Slope's Bishop Ford High School scored a game-high 19 points Tuesday as the Bulldogs remained unbeaten since a one-point loss to visiting Rutgers-Newark on Jan. 14.
The BC men also entered the postseason on a high note after knocking off CCNY 78-65 in Tuesday's regular-season finale.
Brooklyn native Jeffrey Noel scored a game-high 23 points for the Bulldogs, who will host Brooklyn rival Medgar Evers on Sunday at the West Quad Center.
In other local college hoops news, the NYU-Poly men suffered a 92-59 loss at Purchase College on Tuesday evening. The Lady Jays also fell to Purchase, 78-57.
On the local high school girls' basketball scene, a dream season ended with a very tough loss for the Blue Pride of Pearl Street's Brooklyn Friends School on Tuesday.
Despite nearly rallying from a late nine-point deficit, the Blue Pride dropped a hard-to-swallow 30-27 decision to York Prep in the championship game of the Independent School Athletic League.
Senior star Janna Jossainte put up 21 points and 10 rebounds for BFS, which won all but six of its 23 games this season en route to the title game.
"I lost sleep over it and I hope the girls did to," Blue Pride coach David Gardella, also the school's athletic director, said after the loss. "Life lesson learned. Great season!"