RINDGE, N.H. – Junior All-America Lauren Battista (North Easton, Mass./Oliver Ames HS), named to the Capital One NCAA Division II Academic All-America first team earlier in the day, scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds as Bentley University, in its first game since taking over the number one position in the USA Today Sports poll, clinched a three-peat as Northeast-10 Conference women's basketball regular season champions, 74-63 over Franklin Pierce University Wednesday night at The Fieldhouse.
Using 16 more free throws and 15 more rebounds, the Falcons led from the opening basket, the sixth wire-to-wire win this season, to improve to 24-0 overall and 20-0 in the conference. Bentley becomes the first NE-10 team to capture sole possession of first place at least three straight years since the Falcons won five in a row from 1997-2001.
Battista was one of three Falcons to reach double figures in the scoring column with junior forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg, Mass./Wachusett Reg.) netting 13 and junior guard Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) matching her career-best with 11. The return of senior Caleigh Crowell (Harwich, Mass./Worcester Academy) from injury also provided a lift as she produced nine points, including a pair of threes, and six rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench.
Bentley had the hot hand early, making seven of its first nine shots and eight of its first 13, including three from downtown, to shoot out to a 20-8 lead after eight minutes. Three-pointers from senior guard Kelsey Roberson (Arlington, Mass./Arlington Catholic HS) and Brugliera, along with a pair of Battista lay-ups, fueled a game-opening 10-2 spurt, and a Crowell three capped an 8-0 burst that made it 20-8.
The Falcons cooled off significantly with only four field goals the rest of the half, but a buzzer-beating three by Roberson sent the visitors into the break up nine, 36-27.
Bentley opened the second half by scoring six of the first eight points and Franklin Pierce was never able to get closer than nine the rest of the way despite shooting 47 percent overall after intermission, including 11 of 22 inside the arc.
An 8-2 run, finished by a pair of Battista inside baskets, gave Bentley its biggest lead of the night, 63-46 with 6:33 to play. The Ravens answered with seven straight and eventually got to within nine a couple times in the final three minutes, but no closer. A Brugliera three-point play made it 70-58 with 2:23 left, and Bakolas and Battista each made two free throws in the final 80 seconds to lock up the Falcons' 37th straight win against East Region opposition.
Battista, who tied Patrice Misiano '93 for 12th place on Bentley's all-time scoring list (1,363 points), earned half her points at the line as she was a perfect 10-of-10, attempting one more than Franklin Pierce did as a team.
Senior guard Tiffany Johnson (St. Albans, Vt.) led the offense for Franklin Pierce, the ninth-ranked team in the East Region. She filled the stat sheet with 17 points, six assists and six steals, but saw her team slip to 16-8 overall and 13-7 NE-10.
Both teams shot 41 percent overall, but Bentley had an 8-5 edge in threes and was an outstanding 22 of 24 at the line, 93 percent. Franklin Pierce, on the other hand, attempted only nine, making six.
The Falcons overcame the 20 turnovers, evenly split between halves and five more than the Ravens, by owning the boards, 43-28, with five different players collecting at least five.
Bentley will also be on the road Saturday with a 1:30 game at second-place and 14th-ranked Stonehill.