BANGOR — The University of Maine women’s basketball team is dancing again.

The Black Bears earned their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division I women’s tournament – aka The Big Dance – with a resounding 68-48 victory over Hartford Friday night in the America East championship game at the Cross Insurance Center.

Maine played its usual cat-and-mouse game – building a big early lead, letting Hartford close to within two and then pulling away – in claiming the school’s ninth trip to the NCAA tournament.

And they did it in front of a boisterous crowd of 3,234 – including Sen. Susan Collins – that certainly was a factor in the outcome.

After Hartford cut the lead to two, 32-30, early in the third quarter, Maine went on a 9-0 run that regained the momentum for the Black Bears and put the crowd into a frenzy with each Maine made basket and each Hartford miss.

Maine fed off that energy the rest of the game, extending the lead to 20 in the final quarter.

“It’s huge, we’ve been saying it all year, we said it last year,” said Maine senior guard Parise Rossignol. “The energy (the fans) bring is a game-changer. Once we start to make a run, me and Blanca (Millan) getting them into it, the energy is huge. Other teams notice it and we appreciate it.”

The Hawks certainly noticed. Junior guard Sierra DaCosta said the noise was definitely a factor. “This is a tough environment to play in,” she said. “When they went on their run, we should have done a better job of staying together and tuning the crowd out.”

But when noise is cascading down on you, that’s not easy to do. “There were times we were making mistakes and turnovers that were uncharacteristic,” said DaCosta.

Maine will find out who and where it will play on the NCAA’s Selection Show at 7 p.m. Monday.

But for seniors like Rossignol and Tanesha Sutton, who scored all 12 of her points in the second half Friday night, this final game at the Cross was unforgettable.

They were the final two to cut the nets and then joined the team in its traditional “Electric Slide” dance with their fans.

“The crowd was awesome,” said Maine Coach Amy Vachon. “It’s great playing a championship game at home.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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