First was the potential dagger.
With 22.4 seconds remaining in the second half and the Quakers up 46-45, Fairfield senior forward Brittany MacFarlane found her favorite spot in the corner and broke Penn’s hearts with a three.
But down two, the Quakers would not let up.
Taking the inbounds pass with just 7.9 seconds left on the clock, junior guard Alyssa Baron dribbled to the top of the key. She faked the drive, stepped back and hoisted a three.
Nothing but net.
“In the timeout leading up to the play, coach said, ‘This better be going to the basket, do not settle for the outside shot, this better go to the basket,’” Baron said.
“[We] set a high ball screen try to get her attacking and they did a nice job to hedge out on her, and she just made a huge shot,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I’m just happy for them and they’re really excited.”
“It’s a shot I’ve taken hundreds of times, I’ve practiced almost every day of my life and I just pulled up for the shot and it luckily went in,” Baron added.
The shot capped the program’s second-ever postseason victory, and will catapult the Quakers (18-12) to the semifinals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational, where they will either face Detroit on the road or The College of Charleston at home.
Baron’s remarkable shot capped an 18-point, 11-rebound performance and marked the end of a tightly contested matchup.
Unlike their first-round game, the Quakers started quickly, taking a 12-2 lead over Fairfield (18-14) in the opening minutes. During that stretch, Bonenberger had two blocks and the Quakers forced Fairfield to shoot from outside.
The introduction of freshman guard Kristin Schatzlein breathed life into the Stags, as she hit a three from the wing and a layup midway through the period to cut the lead to five.
The teams traded baskets, and an easy layup by Schatzlein, followed by a 15-foot jumper by Brittany MacFarlane from the corner, brought the Stags to within one, 25-24. Holding for the last shot and a chance to take the lead going into halftime, junior forward Christelle Akon-Akech had her pocket picked by senior guard Brianna Bradford, who laid it in to put the Quakers up three going into the locker room.
In the second half, the Quakers struggled to create good shots on offense and were suffocated by the Fairfield defense that held the Red and Blue to just 34.5 percent shooting for the game.
“I thought we played really well,” McLaughlin said. “We didn’t play great on the offensive end, but defensively we were really good.
Penn, which was trailing for much of the second half, finally took the lead with five minutes remaining when senior guard Brianna Bradford hit a three from straight away.
After two made foul shots by Penn sophomore forward Kara Bonenberger, Penn led, 46-43. But on the next possession, Fairfield managed to grab two offensive rebounds and reset.
Senior guard Katelyn Linney brought the Stags to within one on a layup with 22 seconds remaining, and immediately fouled Bradford as the ball was inbounded. Bradford missed the front end of the 1-and-1, and Fairfield quickly pushed the ball before finding MacFarlane in the corner.
“I didn’t want Bri to end her career on a miss foul shot, and Alyssa found a way to bow her out,” McLaughlin said. “Bri works so hard, and I would hate to have her think about that for many, many years.”
The three set the stage for Baron’s heroics and arguably the biggest shot in program history.
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