FINAL FOUR BOUND! Amherst College women’s basketball team books return trip

  • The Amherst College women’s basketball team celebrates after beating Trinity College (Texas) to advance to the NCAA Division 3 Final Four at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst on Saturday night. MIKE ORAZZI/CLARUS STUDIOS INC.

  • Amherst College’s Dani Valdez helps cut down the net following the Mammoths’ quarterfinal win over Trinity College (Texas) on Saturday night at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst. MIKE ORAZZI/CLARUS STUDIOS INC.

  • Amherst head coach G.P. Gromacki talks to his team during a timeout against Trinity College (Texas) on Saturday night. MIKE ORAZZI/CLARUS STUDIOS INC.

Staff Writer 
Published: 3/12/2022 9:10:39 PM
Modified: 3/12/2022 9:10:25 PM

AMHERST – Amherst College head coach G.P. Gromacki has a pretty unreadable poker face. No matter what’s happening on the court, he’s typically calm, cool and collected on the sidelines.

But when Gabrielle Zaffiro hit a triple to open the fourth quarter, the team’s fifth 3-pointer in a 5 minute, 16 second span, he couldn’t contain himself – he unleashed a fist pump and let out a yell in celebration. Finally, the tide had turned in his team’s favor. 

“That was kind of the one that broke their back – I felt really good,” Gromacki said. “I never felt too nervous in the game, even though it wasn't going that well, because we have a lot of confidence in each other and the team. But that was the one that got us going.” 

The Mammoths survived a so-so first half and dominated in the second half of their quarterfinal contest against Trinity College of Texas. Amherst shot a blistering 71.4 percent from the field in the third quarter and drained six triples in total during the second half en route to a 79-61 win at LeFrak Gymnasium that punched their ticket to the NCAA Division 3 Final Four.

The Mammoths (26-3) will face either Wisconsin-Oshkosh or Wisconsin-Whitewater in Pittsburgh on Thursday. 

It’s an especially meaningful win for the school’s five seniors, who Gromacki put on the floor together in the final minute of play so that they could celebrate together on the court. 

“There's really no words to describe that feeling in the last seven seconds – Courtney (Resch) was dribbling the ball and the whole crowd is counting down, and I just never experienced a feeling like that in my whole basketball career,” Zaffiro said on finishing the game with her fellow seniors. “I'm just so grateful that we were all able to have the opportunity together as a five. We've been through so much together over our four years here at Amherst, and I just couldn't ask for a better way for our last game to go.”

The 79 points were a season-high for the Mammoths, who previously scored 78 points in a 78-61 win over Wesleyan on Dec. 3. Resch also moved into second place on the all-time block list with her three blocks against Trinity, a feat made more impressive by the fact that her junior year was canceled because of COVID-19.

“It's really exciting and really cool that I've been able to get that accomplishment – honestly, I wouldn't have even known that I had gotten it I (didn’t) get texts from my dad after the game,” Resch said. “I wouldn't have been able to get done without our team defense… I think I have all 11 people on the team to thank for that.”

The game-changing moment for the Mammoths came in the third quarter. Amherst started the third with a 6-0 run, and took the lead for the first time since the first quarter on a free throw from Dani Valdez that made it 37-36 Amherst with 8:12 remaining in the third.

The teams traded leads back and forth over the next few minutes, but the Mammoths broke the game open in the second half of the third, starting with a 3 from Zaffiro to tie things up at 46. The Mammoths outscored the Tigers 15-6 in the last five minutes of the penultimate quarter, splashing four triples in that time. 

“You come to Amherst and you play them on their home floor, you can't be foolish enough to think that they're not going to make runs and figure some things out,” Trinity head coach Cameron Hill said. “The third quarter was a little bit like standing in front of a firing squad.”

The first half was anything but easy for the Mammoths. Though Reeya Patel hit a jumper to open the scoring, Amherst spent most of the opening period playing catchup and dealing with its opponent’s full-court press. Trinity quickly tied the game up after Patel’s bucket and worked on building up its lead. The Tigers outscored the Mammoths 9-4 in the first 3:30 of the quarter.

Senior Dani Valdez hit back-to-back jumpers to bring the Mammoths within one, but Coleman answered with a shot to put a tie out of reach. The Tigers went on a 7-2 run to close out the quarter and start the second up 18-13. 

Hailey Coleman was unstoppable for the Tigers in the first half, hitting all 17 of her points in the first two quarters; she knocked down nine in the first and eight in the second, shooting a perfect seven-for-seven from the field with two free throws for good measure. 

After starting the quarter on their heels, AnLing Vera gave the Mammoths the energy boost they sorely needed. Down 26-18 and with the momentum in Trinity’s favor, Vera hit three triples over a two-minute span, leading the charge on an 11-6 run that brought the Mammoths within four points, down just 28-24. 

The Tigers quickly built up their lead again, relying on Coleman’s hot hand along with Kelly Simmons to take a 36-28 lead with just under two minutes in the half. The Mammoths managed to close out the half on a positive note; Zaffiro knocking down a timely triple and Resch draining a buzzer-beater to make it 36-33 heading into intermission.

After their dominant third quarter, where Amherst outscored Trinity 28-16, the Mammoths started the fourth up 61-52 and the Tigers were never able to recover. Zaffiro’s basket from the arc to open the fourth ripped the roof off LeFrak, and after Lauren Pelosi and Valdez hit back-to-back buckets to make it 68-52, all the air went out of Trinity’s sails, and Amherst was able to relax a little in the final seven minutes.


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