Knights’ playoff push starts Tuesday

The No. 4 Gannon University women’s basketball team closed its regular season with three straight wins over Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference opponents to capture a No. 2 seed in next week’s PSAC tournament.

The Knights toppled Clarion University 73-33 Wednesday for Senior Night in the Hammermill Center. Junior guard Mollie Sebald and junior forward/center Nettie Blake led the team in scoring with 13 points each.

Gannon played strong defense, limiting the Golden Eagles to 23 percent shooting from the field, while the Knights drained nearly 44 percent of their shots.

Sebald said she was pleased with the outcome of Senior Night, and added she was happy she could be a part of helping her team to victory.

“Senior Night was very emotional,” Sebald said. “I have played with these girls my entire college career and even though it is just one game, we wanted it to be a really special one for them.”

The Knights then hit the road to take on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Saturday. Gannon beat the Mountain Cats 71-50 with strong play from senior forward Jen Papich, senior guard Kelley Sundberg and Blake.

Papich netted a team-high 16 points while Blake ripped down seven rebounds and scored 10 points of her own. Sundberg scored eight points, secured five rebounds and chipped in three assists.

Coach Jim Brunelli said he can count on his senior leaders to leave everything they have out on the court, and he added that they know this will be their last season in the maroon and gold.

“Jen Papich is the do-it-all type of player,” Brunelli said. “If she needs to get rebounds, she does it. If she needs to score points, she does it and if she needs to be the first one to the floor to get a 50/50 ball, she does  it.”

Brunelli wasn’t playing favorites because he had similar sentiment about his senior guard.

“Kelley Sundberg is the leader of this team,” Brunelli said. “She is the motor that runs this team, and she is going to do whatever it takes.”

Sebald said the team stringing together victories before the end of the season will only help the Knights in their push to win the PSAC tournament and get a bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II tournament.

“With playoffs coming we want to be playing our best basketball right now, so it feels good to have a winning streak going into the playoffs,” Sebald said. “But our focus is still one game at a time and to get better each and every day.”

The Knights’ playoff push will start in the PSAC tournament quarterfinal matchup at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Hammermill Center. The Knights’ next opponent is unclear at this point, but as the season ends the smoke will settle.

Gannon will play the winner of the game matching the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds. The three seed is California University of Pennsylvania, but the sixth seed is still up for grabs between Clarion, Mercyhurst and Seton Hill.

Brunelli said he is focused on keeping his team fresh during its nine-day layoff before the next game. Gannon is accustomed to playing games each Wednesday and Saturday.

Sundberg said she planned to help her teammates along in preparation for the Knights’ biggest game of the season.

“I like to think of this week as the start to our new season,” Sundberg said. “We need to keep focused on each other and how we can get better, whether it is in practice, off the court or getting in some extra shots.

“We are excited because lots of teams are going home for spring break and we are still playing.”

Brunelli said he isn’t trying to get ahead of himself, but noted that the Knights are working toward playing in the NCAA Elite Eight matchup, which will be held at the Erie Insurance Arena.

“It would be completely awesome – that is a goal of ours,” Brunelli said. “It would be great that we could play a couple of blocks away, it would be a great home court advantage for us.

“That’s what we’re striving for right now, but we have to take it one game at a time.”