Jessie Ruffner, Smith College punch return ticket to NCAA Division III Final Four via 51-47 win over Bowdoin

Smith College head coach Lynn Hersey talks with Jessie Ruffner earlier this season at Ainsworth Gymnasium in Northampton.

Smith College head coach Lynn Hersey talks with Jessie Ruffner earlier this season at Ainsworth Gymnasium in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Reports

Published: 03-09-2024 9:19 PM

The Smith College basketball team is Final Four-bound, again.

For the second straight year, the Pioneers will play on the biggest stage in NCAA Division III women’s basketball thanks to a 51-47 victory over host Bowdoin in the Elite Eight on Saturday night in Brunswick, Maine.

Smith (29-3) will play Wartburg College (Iowa) in the national semifinals on Thursday night at the Capital Center Performance Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Wartburg survived a double-overtime quarterfinal contest with Washington & Lee on Saturday night, securing a 68-58 win.

The Pioneer trailed 44-43 with 3 minutes, 52 seconds remaining against the Polar Bears (28-3) on Saturday night. Sofia Rosa keyed the rally, as she scored and was fouled inside for a 45-44 lead after missing the free throw.

On Smith’s next possession, Jessie Ruffner did what she’s done in crunch time throughout the NCAA Tournament. The senior powered to the basket and finished through contact, scoring with 3:14 to play and sinking the free throw to make it 48-44.

Bowdoin cut into the deficit with a free throw for a 48-45 game, but Ruffner was fouled again going to the hoop with 51.7 seconds left, and made two free throws for a 50-45 advantage.

Bowdoin’s Carly Davey went to the hoop for a layup with 40.8 seconds left that pulled the hosts within 50-47, but Ruffner was fouled again on the next trip down the floor and made 1-of-2 to make it a two-possession game again.

Bowdoin’s Sydney Jones missed a 3 on the other end, and Ruffner grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 12.4 seconds to play. She again made 1-of-2, but the Polar Bears were unable to answer on the other end as the Pioneers punched a return ticket to the Final Four.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Two die in Thursday crashes in Northampton, Westhampton
Northampton woman nominated for superior court judgeship
The town that declutters together: Belchertown holds community-wide yard sale, Aug. 9-11
An intimate concert in the hills: Watermelon Wednesdays celebrates 25 years of presenting world-class acoustic music
Dearth of judges causing court bottleneck in Hampshire Superior Court, across state
Food, friends, music and beer: Food Truck Fridays is the place to be in Easthampton this summer

Ruffner again paced Smith College with 27 points and 13 rebounds, while Rosa went for 10 points and 10 rebounds. Jane Loo added seven points and Hannah Martin tossed in five as the Pioneers outrebounded Bowdoin by a 43-36 margin.

Neither team shot particularly well, as Smith was just 2-for-16 from 3-point range and wound up 33.3 percent from the floor. Bowdoin was 35.2 percent from the floor and only made 3 of 19 shots from downtown.

Smith led 23-19 at halftime but the Polar Bears put together a strong third quarter and led 39-38 entering the fourth. The Pioneers held Bowdoin to just eight points in the fourth quarter, locking down with a spot in the Final Four on the line.

The Pioneers lost to Transylvania, 76-65, in what was the program’s first-ever Final Four appearance in 2023.