(Posted March 7, 2009)

PURCHASE, N.Y. -- Juniata College shot the lights out, mustered a balanced offense that featured six players scoring in double-figures, and had senior guard Claudia McDowell (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley) dishing out assists like never before in her career.

That combination proved lethal to Alvernia University as the Eagles downed the fourth-seeded Crusaders 80-72, in Saturday's semifinal round of the ECAC Division III South Region Women's Basketball Tournament at Manhattanville College.

The win propels Juniata (17-11) into Sunday's 1:00 p.m. championship game against Wesley College (Del.). The Wolverines, the tourney's seventh seed, topped the third seeded and host squad from Manhattanville, 70-66, in Saturday's other semifinal matchup.

Sophomore Jen Hnatuck (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Trinity) led the Eagles with 16 points and eight rebounds, while newcomer Brittany Ryder (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Catholic) finished with 12 points and five boards.

McDowell dished out 10 assists - the first double-digit assist total of her career - to go with 11 points and three steals. Senior Kelly Ashcraft (Bellefonte, Pa./State College Area) and junior reserve forward Kelly Rotan (Atco, N.J./Hammonton) each notched 11 points, while freshman guard Ashton Bankos (York, Pa./York Catholic) had 10 points with three steals.

Alvernia (18-10) was led by Alexandra Velazquez with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Kelli McIntyre finished with 23 points.

On the heels of a 54 percent shooting performance against Albright College in the tournament quarterfinals, Juniata shot 53.2% (33-62) from the field on Saturday night versus Alvernia â?" the first time this season the Eagles had shot 50.0% or better in consecutive game. Defensively, the Eagles held the Crusaders to just 44.3% (27-61) from the floor, including a 3-of-11 clip from beyond the arc.

Juniata also thoroughly dominated Alvernia on the boards by a 40-27 margin.

The Eagles opened the contest scoring 11 of the game's first 12 points, with the Juniata lead reaching 22-6 with 12:52 remaining after a three-pointer by Gina Piccolini (Indiana, Pa./Indiana).

Juniata's lead remained well into double-digits throughout most of the second half. The Eagles pushed their advantage to 17 points, 67-50, with just 8:21 on the clock, following a pair of free throws by Ashcraft. A McIntyre layup and Velazquez jumper in the final 40 seconds cut Juniata's lead to single digits before the final horn.


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Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.