- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2018

Emily Kinneston still had the net around her neck, several minutes after she and her American University teammates cut it down Sunday.

“I think Emily’s gonna wear it forever,” teammate Cecily Carl said.

Other Eagles walked around the court with their families still holding the “tourney tickets” they were awarded, a fitting celebration for a team that just punched its proverbial ticket to the national championship.

Top-seeded American defeated No. 3 Navy 58-49 to win the Patriot League Championship Game at Bender Arena and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. It will be American’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015.

“I really think the third quarter was really important for us to getting the lead and keeping the lead,” Eagles coach Megan Gebbia said. “Our defense in the second half was much better than the first half. We just seemed to turn it on and really knew that if we didn’t defend like we did in the second half, it would have been a longer game for us.”

Tournament MVP Carl posted 20 points and eight rebounds, and Kinneston, the Patriot League Player of the Year, scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half for American (26-6). Kinneston and Michael Harris also had nine rebounds apiece.

Taylor Dunham scored 14 points to lead Navy (25-7) and Bianca Roach had nine. Hannah Fenske added eight points and a career-high eight steals and Kaila Clark put up seven points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.

“It was a three-point game with a minute to go and we had a good look,” Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said. “I’m impressed with our team that, in that situation, we were right there.”

Dunham and Fenske both wished American luck representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament, and the Eagles had praise for their opponents, too.

“Navy’s an unbelievable team,” Kinneston said. “We knew that coming into it, we knew it was going to be a fight till the end. They did a really good job defensively and offensively and we were just able to match that and come out on top just based off some big people stepping up toward the end of the game.”

Carl missed both games of the regular season series, which the teams split, so the Mids did not face the junior this season before Sunday.

“Stef (Pemper) said to me before the game, ‘We haven’t seen Cecily this year. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I don’t know how to feel about that,’” Gebbia said. “And I’m thinking, ‘I think it’s good for us.’”

American went undefeated in 13 home games this year. The Eagles will learn its NCAA Tournament seed and first-round opponent Monday in the women’s selection show.

It is the second straight year Navy lost the Patriot League title game. No. 2 Bucknell will earn the conference’s automatic WNIT bid, but with an RPI in the 70s range, Navy stands a chance to earn an at-large invite to the WNIT as well.

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