Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fairfield vs. Marist for Women's Title

It's only fitting that the conference's perennial dominant team gets to face the league's hottest team in today's noon women's MAAC tournament championship game Sunday at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

That would be Marist in its traditional role of prohibitive favorite and Fairfield as the eager, competent upstart that showed, in the second half of the current season, it comes in as a legitimate challenge.

Marist has won the last four conference tournaments and six of the last seven.

Fairfield hasn't even made it to the championship contest since the 2001 season and last won this event in 1998.

But the Stags come in riding a conference-best nine-game winning streak that includes a 61-60 victory over Marist on Feb. 9.

Marist earned its berth in the title contest with a business-as-usual 69-47 victory over Niagara in its semifinal-round contest Saturday. Fairfield got there with a 61-57 victory over second-seeded Iona.

Marist is currently 25-7 overall, while Fairfield enters Sunday's game with a 19-12 mark.

"We'll have our hands full with them," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "Then again I can't ever remember playing in a championship game when we didn't have our hands full."

Marist, too, is likely to have its cumulative mind full, as well ... full of its regular-season loss to Fairfield.

The Red Foxes' semifinal-round opponent, Niagara, had also earned a regular-season (69-59) victory in its most-recent meeting with Marist.

"I don't want to say this was revenge, but we certainly wanted to show them that it was wrong to lose by 10 to them at their place the last time we played," said Marist senior forward Rachele Fitz, who did most of her team's damage with 25 points and 12 rebounds against the Purple Eagles.

Marist is likely to have similar thoughts today against Fairfield, but it declined to say so.

But, Fairfield has been a developing work in progess since a 10-12 overall start to its season. It currently hasn't lost a game since Feb. 5.

On Saturday, it got strong efforts from 6-2 senior ofrward Stephanie Geehan (16 points, eight rebounds), sophomore point guard Desiree Pina (15 pitns, 5 assists) and 5-11 sophomore forward Taryn Johnson (8 points, 13 rebounds).

"I have to give credit to our players for our turnaround," said coach Joe Frager. "They never lost hope, never lost faith in each other and in our coaching staff."

The Stags also benefited from the return of 6-2 senior forward Tara Flaherty, who missed seven games midway through the season with an injury. Flaherty had eight points, seven rebounds and five assists in Saturday's semifinal-round contest.

"Marist is definitely the prohibitive favorite," admitted Frager. "It has been here before and has done it. Top stay at its level of excellence says plenty about ltheir team. Still, where else would we rather be than playing here on Sunday."

Iona coach Tony Borzella admitted he expected his Gaels to be playing today rather than Fairfield.

"The way we played against them (Fairfield on Saturday) was not Iona basketball," said Borzella. To say that this was a disappointing loss would be an undertatement. Fairfield played very intelligent basketball. We played OK, but very unintelligent.

"I think they've got a very good chance to beat Marist. They were 10-12 and at that point they could have packed it in. It's not easy coaching young ladies 18- to 22-years old when things are going bad. But, they kept it together. They're playing confidently now. They've got a good chance to win on Sunday."

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