SPRINGFIELD, MASS. - When MAAC Player of the Year candidate Taryn Johnson went to the bench with her fourth foul with 17:17 remaining and Siena leading, the outlook could not have been brighter for the Saints. But buoyed by their other veteran leaders, Fairfield went on a 17-4 run late and pulled away for a 63-48 win as the Saints' season ended in the MAAC Semifinals for the second straight year.
The No. 2 seed, Fairfield (24-7) advances to the MAAC Championship Game for the second time in three years and will face the winner of the other semifinals game between No. 1 Marist and No. 5 Niagara Monday at noon. Siena meanwhile ends its season with a 12-17 record.
A day after becoming the first No. 6 seed to advance to the semifinals in 12 years, Siena looked early on like it might have a good chance to become the first ever to make it to the MAAC title game.
The Saints came out with high energy and forced the usually sure handed Stags into 10 first half turnovers. Siena held a 19-8 edge in points off turnovers in the opening half and took a seemingly very important 30-29 lead into intermission. Fairfield had entered the day only 1-7 when trailing at the half as opposed to a perfect 22-0 when leading.
Although neither team scored in the first two and a half minutes of the second half, the two biggest plays were a pair of quick fouls on Johnson - her third and fourth of the game.
"We thought it was an opportunity to go inside, but their girls that came in really stepped up," said Lily Grenci on Johnson's departure.
Step up they would.
Fairfield's trademark strong defense began to step up and offensively the Stags executed with precision. Fairfield shot 57.1% (12-21) in the second half and 51.1% for the game while turning it over just twice in the final stanza.
Meanwhile, Saints managed to shoot just 25% (7-28) over the final 20 minutes. Entering the day eighth nationally in scoring defense, Fairfield held the opposition under 50 points for the 16th time this season.
Siena hung tough and got back within a point, 43-42 with 8:05 remaining before the Stags delivered the final knockout punch. Over the next 5:22, with Johnson on the bench for almost all of it, Fairfield embarked on their 17-4 run ending Siena's season.
Katelyn Linney led Fairfield with 20 points, shooting 8-13 from the field and added five assists. "I haven't shot the ball real well this year," she said. "Today, I was just in the zone."
Desiree Pina added 14 points and Christelle Akon-Akech was big off the bench contributing nine points and seven rebounds for Fairfield which won its sixth straight and swept all three games from the Saints after Siena had done so to them last season. Johnson too finished with nine points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.
Grenci had a big performance inside for the Saints scoring 21 points and adding nine rebounds, while Clara Sole Anglada added seven points and 10 rebounds.
In their final collegiate games, Maja Gerlyng, celebrating her 24th birthday, scored nine points while Cristina Centeno was limited to just one point - her only one of the tournament - and dished out five assists.
"We had a great season," reflected Centeno. "I loved it here at Siena and couldn't have asked for a better team to go out with."
"Their leadership was commendable, especially with a young team," said head coach Gina Castelli about her two seniors. "Siena was lucky to have them."