EASTON, Mass. – The Merrimack women's basketball team fought valiantly, but No. 14 Stonehill managed to pull away late in the second half, as the Warriors suffered their sixth consecutive defeat, 67-55, on Sunday night at Merkert Gymnasium.
Merrimack sinks to 11-10 overall by means of the defeat with a 7-10 mark in league play, while the second-place Skyhawks moved to 18-3 with a 14-3 conference record.
With five games remaining in the regular season, Merrimack will head to last-place Saint Anselm on Wednesday night looking to bounce back with an important conference tilt. The Warriors sit just outside of the playoff bubble with just over two weeks to go.
Both sides went back and forth down the floor over the course of the first stanza, as the Warriors went into the break trailing by just four, 31-27. That theme continued in the opening minutes of the second half, as Merrimack continued to keep pace with the Skyhawks, but a late spark ignited the home side to an eventual eight-point advantage (36-28) in second-half scoring, accounting for the final margin of victory down the stretch.
Stonehill's strengths came from dominating the battle on the glass on Sunday, as the hosts held a commanding 43-24 edge in rebounding. The Skyhawks also shot 23-of-51 (45.1) from the floor, compared to 19-of-55 (34.5) for the Warriors. Both sides registered 3-point clips over 40 percent, while Merrimack finished 9-of-12 (75.0) from the free throw line compared to 14-of-18 (77.8) for the home side.
The Skyhawks were led by four double-digit scorers, with Tori Faieta leading the charge by means of her 17-point outing. Both Mary Louise Dixon and Asia Ewing added 16 points in their starting roles, while Amy Pelletier added timely 3-pointers and chipped in 11 points off the bench.
Just two Warriors finished in double figures, as junior Shelby Secor (Antioch, Calif.) led the visitors with 11 points. The only other Merrimack player to reach double-digits was sophomore Chloe Rothman (Newton, Mass.), who hit 10 points even while making two of Merrimack's eight shots from long range.
Senior forward Kelly Schatzlein (Tolland, Conn.) led Merrimack with five rebounds and two blocks, while fellow starter Tia Scott (New York, N.Y.) chipped in eight points with a 4-of-6 mark from the stripe and totaled a team-high three steals, as well.
For the first time in six games, Merrimack won the turnover battle, as the Skyhawks committed 22 giveaways compared to 16 for the visitors, but the Warriors were still beaten in the points off turnover battle, one that Stonehill owned an 18-15 edge in. The Skyhawks also finished with an advantage in points scored in the paint (20-16) and second-chance points (11-8), as well.
The Warriors came out firing to start, and after a Schatzlein layup followed by a triple from Ganser, Merrimack found itself ahead, 5-0, thanks to three Stonehill turnovers in the opening two minutes of play. But despite the early giveaways, the Skyhawks pulled back to within one (7-6), prompting a Merrimack timeout with 14:55 left in the opening stanza.
Stonehill would then embark on an 11-2 run to take control near the midway point of the first half, but Merrimack would respond with three consecutive baskets over a nearly six-minute span, as an Ashley Weissmann (Highland, Calif.) 3-pointer cut the deficit to 17-16 with 6:57 to go in the first frame.
From there on out, both sides would exchange scoring chances to close out the first half, as Stonehill took a 31-27 advantage in the intermission. The hosts shot 12-of-27 (44.0) in the first half, compared to 10-of-26 (38.4) for the Warriors. Merrimack, however, was 3-for-6 from downtown, compared to just 1-for-8 (13.0) for the home side. Faieta, meanwhile, led all players with 11 points and six boards at the midway point, while the Warriors were led by Scott (8 points) in scoring and Schatzlein (4 rebounds) on the glass.
The first 10 minutes of the second half saw Merrimack answer nearly every Stonehill basket, as the Warriors kept within range of the Skyhawks and trailed by just six (45-39) with 9:58 to go. But moments later, Jamie Panton hit a key triple before the home side saw its edge grow to double-digits on Pelletier's second 3-pointer of the game with 4:56 to go.
After two free throws from Weissmann brought the lead down to eight, Stonehill notched three consecutive baskets to seal the deal, giving the Skyhawks the season sweep over the Warriors.
Merrimack returns to action on Wednesday (Feb. 13) with a key conference battle at Saint Anselm. Tip-off against the Hawks is set for 5:30 p.m.