DARTMOUTH, Mass. – Senior forward Kelsey Santagata (Stamford) came off the bench for 14 points in the first half to power the Eastern Connecticut State University women's basketball team to a 23-point halftime lead as the No. 2-seeded Warriors crushed No. 3 University of Southern Maine, 93-58, in the semifinals of the Little East Conference tournament Friday night at the Tripp Athletic Center on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Eastern (18-8) moves into its fourth final in the last five years, for the first time against No. 1 UMass Dartmouth (22-4), which edged No. 5 Rhode Island College, 71-65, in Friday's first semifinal.
Eastern has won the title in two of its last three finals appearances while UMass Dartmouth is making only its third championship game showing in LEC history. The Corsairs lost at Southern Maine, 90-66 in 2013 and as the top seed, were beaten by visiting University of Massachusetts Boston, 65-56, a year ago.
Eastern and Southern Maine had split in the regular season, each winning on the other's home court and were facing off in the LEC tournament for the first time since USM won, 58-49, in the 2014 semifinals at Rhode Island College.
In the first half Friday, Eastern was 16-of-25 from the floor and 10-of-11 from the foul line while Southern Maine (16-10) was 8-of-36 from the field as the Warriors stormed to a 44-21 lead on the way to their highest final point total this year since a 99-70 LEC win at Western Connecticut Dec. 5.
Santagata led five Eastern double-figure scorers with a season-high 20 points (one shy of her career best) on 8-of-11 field goals and 4-of-4 free-throw shooting, with six rebounds. Freshman guard Jenna Serrantino (Trumbull) had a career-high 17 points on 50 percent field goal shooting and 4-of-5 from the stripe. Freshman forward Anna Barry (Andover) had 11 points (5-of-6 from the floor) and a game-high seven rebounds, junior guard Lizzy Cretella (Cheshire) 11 points and four assists off the bench and junior forward Mya Villard (Cromwell) ten points and five rebounds.
Eastern shot 61.7 percent from the floor and was 15-of-18 from the stripe and outrebounded USM, 44-28. The Huskies shot just 34.3 percent from the floor and were 6-of-13 from the foul line.
UMass Dartmouth was the only team to sweep Eastern this year, winning 64-60 at the Tripp Center and 73-55 at Geissler Gymnasium three weeks ago. UMass is the last team to beat Eastern, which has won five straight heading into Saturday's title tilt.