The Fairfield University women’s basketball team hosted two home games this past week against Saint Peter’s University and Niagara University, where they secured close wins in both contests.
The games took place on Feb. 1 and 3 respectively, leaving little time to rest for Coach Joe Frager and his team. Although neither of the teams that the Stags faced were at the top of the conference, each game going forward is critical leading into March Madness.
“The second half of the schedules are always tougher than the first because everyone’s got more film on each other,” said Frager. “The thing that I’m really proud of is the fact that we really had to grind out these last two wins. We just need to keep reminding ourselves of the way the league is set up; anybody can beat anybody. You better be ready for everyone’s game, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Both games were close and tight until the end as Frager mentioned above, winning 63-56 to Saint Peter’s and 75-72 to Niagara. Each matchup had numerous lead changes and runs, yet the Stags never looked rattled or panicked.
This was especially true in the fourth quarter of each game, where the Stags were facing defeat in their faces and prevailed to collect important victories.
Against Saint Peter’s, the Stags were losing a close battle when Lou Lopez-Senechal ‘22 would take over the game for two straight minutes in the fourth quarter, as she netted nine straight points for the Stags to take the lead.
Fairfield took their largest lead of the game as another Lopez-Senechal jumper made the score 55-45 with 6:47 left in the game.
Saint Peter’s had one last gasp as they cut the lead to just three with 23 seconds remaining, but graduate student Sam Lewis and Rachel Hakes ‘22 calmly hit both of their free throws to clinch the seven-point win.
Hakes is a player who also deserves recognition this week, as she played tremendously in both games. Not only did she score in double figures for each contest but she filled in about every stat on the score sheet, showing her skill to Coach Frager and her team.
“Rachel is the type of player that does whatever is required for us to win. If in a game, she senses that we need a little more scoring, she’s going to get more aggressive,” said Frager. “She’s got a really deep gas tank so she can play big minutes. And she’s not afraid of contact and she just loves to win. I think that that helps to elevate everybody else’s game as well.”
Hakes, who might not be on the headlines every week like Lopez-Senechal or Andrea Hernangomez ‘22, is a key part of this Fairfield team and a true leader. She only has one goal on her mind for the rest of the season and she is extremely determined.
“My only focus is winning the MAAC regular season championship and then the MAAC tournament championship,” said Hakes “We have a special group of girls, an incredibly senior-led team who has been playing together for four years. We are all focused on the collective goals and any individual accolades that follow will just be the cherry on top.”
This type of leadership is invaluable for Coach Frager and his system. Hakes is a big reason for the huge success of the Stags season with them standing top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
After the big win against Saint Peter’s, Niagara challenged the Stags to another nail biter that came down to the wire and was decided by a single possession.
The MAAC’s leading scorer Lopez-Senechal left the game in the third quarter with an injury. The senior was extremely hot from the floor before the injury, as she had nine of her 15 points in the period, helping the Stags to gain a nine-point lead at 56-47.
Niagara would fire up a comeback starting in the fourth quarter, scoring eight straight points to cut the lead to single digits. Fairfield would go back to extend the lead to 70-65 in the last minute of the game, where then Niagara would miraculously score fifteen points in that final minute.
The Purple Eagles were able to fight their way to a two-point deficit with nine seconds remaining. Lewis and Janelle Brown ‘24 would combine to go six-for-six from the free throw in the final 18 seconds of the game to secure a narrow three point thrilling victory for the Stags.
Two days directly after these back to back games, Fairfield had to host yet another team at home, the bottom of the table Canisius Golden Griffins.
While the Griffs were 1-10 in conference play, they are known for playing teams tough and Coach Frager knew that coming into the ball game.
The Stags came out flat and tired, falling quickly to Canisius and losing the opening quarter, 16-9. Fairfield did fight back in the second, closing the lead within two by halftime, yet was still struggling shooting and getting consistent stops.
Fairfield started a 9-0 run to begin the third quarter, swinging the momentum back in favor of the Stags. Fairfield would continue to build on this lead in the beginning of the fourth quarter, creating the biggest gap of the quarter at eight points.
Canisius would simply not let up, tying the game around the two minute mark. Erika Joseph of Canisius would hit a crucial layup to put the score at 52-51 with just 44 seconds left.
With plenty of time to get a two-for-one for the Stags, Fairfield will have two opportunities to take the lead, failing to convert on two shots. Fortunately for the Stags, redshirt senior Callie Kavanaugh was able to haul in an offensive rebound where she would get fouled to send her to the line.
The graduate student was able to tie the game by hitting one of her free throws and sending the contest to overtime.
Canisius netted the first basket of the overtime period, but after that the Stags would hold the Griffs without a point the rest of the way to secure a huge 63-54 win.
These three wins brought Fairfield’s win streak up to five, where they now have a 15-6 overall and 12-1 record in the MAAC.
Leading the conference comfortably, the Stags are looking to solidify their regular season championship within the next few weeks.
Check out their next game on ESPN against the Iona Gaels, on Thursday, Feb. 10 where Fairfield will look to continue their win streak. Be sure to show your support!