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Amherst College falls in overtime at buzzer in NCAA Division III semifinal

HOLLAND, Mich. — Mary Merg dashed Amherst College’s return to the NCAA Division III championship game with two stunning buzzer-beaters.

The last one — a 12-foot runner from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater guard after a full-court dash — leveled the sixth-ranked Lord Jeffs with a 64-62 overtime loss in the NCAA Division III semifinals.

The 22nd-ranked Warhawks (26-6) advanced to Saturday’s 7 p.m. title game against No. 1 DePauw (33-0) at Hope College. Amherst (30-2) settled for a 4:30 p.m. consolation game against NESCAC rival Williams.

“I can’t describe all those shots that went in,” Amherst coach G.P. Gromacki said. “It was like a guardian angel steering those shots in. They made the big plays when they needed to, and you have to give them a lot of credit.”

Merg, who finished with a game-high 18 points, ended the game in front of a DeVos Fieldhouse crowd of 1,111 with an 12-foot runner in the lane as time expired.

The junior guard took the inbounds pass after Amherst freshman guard Cheyenne Pritchard’s jumper tied the score at 62-62 with six seconds remaining. Merg dribbled the entire way up court before shooting the game winner against the nation’s eighth-stiffest scoring defense.

“We just weren’t close enough a lot of times,” Hardy said. “We did a fairly good job defending most of the game. We gave up numerous shots. Yeah, they make the shots, but we still give them up.”

Merg forced an extra five minutes after regulation by sinking a 3-pointer in front of the Whitewater bench. It was her third 3 in a span of 2 minutes, 17 seconds as the Warhawks overcame two 12-point deficits over the final 5:11 of the second half.

“It’s kind of like a blur to me,” Merg said. “Words can’t describe the feeling.”

The game was the fourth national semifinal to go overtime. Amherst lost in overtime to Washington University-St. Louis in 2010 at Illinois Wesleyan University.

The Jeffs fell to 0-3 in national semifinals at Hope and 1-4 all-time there. They reached the Final Four for a fifth straight season.

“I’m so proud of my team. They left it all on the court,” said Gromacki, whose team had an eight-game win streak snapped. Amherst’s only other loss this season came at Williams College on Feb. 10. “We couldn’t have done much different. I just wish I did a little more to get them this win.”

Senior point guard Marcia Voigt led Amherst with 16 points and six assists.

She shot 30.4 percent from the floor (7 of 23), mirroring her team’s 34.3 percent effort. She missed all five of her 3-point attempts.

Teammate Jasmine Hardy, also a senior, added 15 points. Two other Amherst players reached double figures in scoring — sophomore forward Megan Robertson with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks and Pritchard with 12 points.

Senior forward Bridget Crowley grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds go along with six points.

“Wow! What a game,” Whitewater coach Keri Carollo said after her team reached its first national title game in its second semifinal appearance. “I have to give all the credit to these girls for never giving up, always believing in themselves. It was an impressive performance against a very, very good Amherst team. They have a great program, phenomenal tradition. (Voigt) is a handful to slow down.

“This is one of those games that could have gone either way. We ended up being the lucky one.”

Whitewater forward Cortney Kumerow led all scorers with 19 points. She also grabbed 10 rebounds.

Teammate Lisa Palmer also posted a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Warhawks helped their cause by outscoring Amherst 22-10 at the foul line. They had 31 attempts to the Jeffs’ 14.

All five of Amherst’s starters — Crowley, Hardy, Pritchard, Robertson and Voigt — played 40-plus minutes.

“It might have been, but these guys are conditioned. They’ve done it all season long,” Gromacki said. “The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”

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