Middlebury, VT --- Senior Lisa Cristiano (Valhalla, NY) collected a defensive rebound and a steal in the final 10 seconds to help WPI hold off host Middlebury 53-49 in a non-conference women's basketball contest played Tuesday evening in Vermont.
The Engineers, who are receiving votes in the most recent Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Division III Top 25, have won four straight to improve to 11-1 for the second time under 22-year head coach Cherise Galasso (2015-16). Three of the wins in the streak have come against NESCAC opponents, including triumphs over Bates on December 29th and Trinity on January 4th. Middlebury dips to 6-5 on the season.
In a game that neither team enjoy a double-digit advantage at any point in the contest, it was the defenses that took center stage in the fourth. The two teams were tied at 47 with 6:51 remaining in the game before WPI surged ahead on a jumper by reigning NEWMAC Offensive Player of the Week Melanie Presseau (Manchester, NH) with 5:46 to go and an Emily Raynowska (Brentwood, NH), (Brentwood, NH) layup off a nifty dish from Victoria Mirecki (Washingtonville, NY) at the 1:47 left to put the visitors up four at 51-47. The Crimson and Gray held the Panthers scoreless on seven straight possessions during the spurt, including 0-4 shooting from the floor and a pair of turnovers.
The hosts cut the deficit in half when Alexa Mustafaj (Yonkers, NY) drained a pair of freebies with 56.1 seconds remining. Middlebury forced a stop on the other end and got a good look at a potential game-winning three-pointer that missed and was corralled by Cristiano after a textbook boxout with 8.3 second to go. The Panthers were forced to foul three consecutive times and were eventually rewarded as WPI missed a pair of free throws and Middlebury gathered the rebound and called timeout to advance the ball to the front court. The home team looked to get the ball towards the hoop but Cristiano helped out by reaching in and knocking the ball away to Presseau, who was fouled and canned both free throws with 0.6 seconds to go to punctuate the road win.
WPI's Alex Scariati (Scotch Plains, NJ) collected her first career double-double, notching 15 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists and pair of steals. Raynowska and Adrianna Niles (Tewksbury, MA) both amassed 10 points with Niles tallying all 10 of her points in the first half, connecting on two trifectas and grabbing six rebounds.
Mustafaj led all players with 19 points on the night for the Panthers. Claire Miller (Arlington, VA) reached double figures with 10 points while Regan McDonald (Holden, MA) Gianna Palli (Wellesley, MA) with 10 points.
The Crimson and Gray parlayed a 13-4 edge on the offensive glass to a 15-0 bulge in second chance points. In a statistically oddity, the only three bench players to score each netted 10 points with Raynowska and Niles helping the Engineers outscores their Panther counterparts 20-10.
Both teams open conference play at home this weekend. WPI hosts Clark in a NEWMAC tilt on Saturday at 3pm while Middlebury entertains Colby on Friday at 7pm and Bowdoin on Saturday at 3pm in NESCAC affairs.