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Knights win third consecutive regional title; punch ticket back to the NJCAAs

Knights win third consecutive regional title; punch ticket back to the NJCAAs

The Community College of Rhode Island is heading back to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III Women’s Basketball National Championships for the third year in a row thanks to a spirited comeback in Sunday’s Region XXI championship game.

The top-seeded Knights faced a rare halftime deficit against No. 2 seed Northern Essex Community College, but found their rhythm in the third quarter and pulled away quickly and held on for a 65-48 win to capture their third consecutive regional title and punch their ticket to the nationals for the third time in as many years.

Freshman guard Angelisse Melendez (North Providence, RI) led CCRI with 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting and sophomore guard Nysia Ortiz (Providence, RI) finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds. The Knights shot poorly through most of the first half and trailed 22-21 at the break before going on a 24-5 run in the third quarter to retake the lead for good.

The D-III National Championships will be held in Rochester, MN, for the second year in a row from March 13–16. The Knights will learn their seed and opening-round opponent during Wednesday’s official NJCAA D-III Women’s Basketball Selection Show live on the NJCAA Network. CCRI is one of 12 teams competing for a national title and one of eight teams to earn an automatic bid by winnings its conference tournament. 

Other district winners include Dallas College Cedar Valley, Prince George’s, Onondaga, Rowan College of South Jersey Gloucester, Anoka-Ramsey, Minnesota West, and Monroe College-Bronx. Last year, CCRI earned the No. 6 seed in the tournament and beat No. 11 Onondaga in the opening round. In 2021–22, the Knights earned the No. 10 seed. This year’s team finished 20-7 overall and entered this past weekend ranked No. 11 in the NJCAA D-III national poll. The four at-large bids will also be announced during Wednesday’s selection show.

CCRI’s defense fueled the second-half surge in Sunday’s win. The Knights forced 12 turnovers, which turned into a bevy of transition baskets during the third-quarter rally. All told, CCRI shot just 35 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range – a stark contrast to their 54 and 39 percent shooting from the field and from three-point range, respectively, in their 84-15 semifinal win over No. 4 seed Roxbury Community College on Saturday – but limited Northern Essex to just 26 percent from the field.

Freshman center Stephanie Walker (Providence, RI) and freshman guard Tatiana Pereira (Providence, RI) each finished with 11 points. Northern Essex, which outlasted No. 3 seed Massasoit on Saturday in a double-overtime thriller, finished its season 12-9 as a the regional runner-up after returning to intercollegiate competition for the first time in 13 years. 

In addition to winning its third consecutive regional championship, CCRI finished 15-0 against league opponents in 2023–24 – including the postseason – which extends its streak of consecutive conference wins to 37 dating back to 2021–22. Over the past three years, the Knights are 60-21, including the postseason.

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