BRUNSWICK — The team comes from the little-known North Atlantic Conference, where even a 25-3 record doesn’t turn heads on the national stage.
But the Castleton State women’s basketball team made an impression Friday night. And make that the 26-3 Spartans.
With an effective defense and a cool-hand 5-foot-4 point guard, Castleton State upset Bowdoin 64-62 in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament at Morrell Gymnasium.
“The biggest win in school history,” Castleton State Coach Tim Barrett said.
“This is huge,” said point guard Jade Desroches. “Our school has never won an NCAA game before – in any sport.”
Desroches ensured the historic victory by scoring half of her team’s points, including 6 of 8 free throws in the final 40 seconds to clinch the win.
The Spartans will play Plattsburgh (N.Y.) State at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Cardinals (23-5) beat Roger Williams 67-56 in the other first-round game Friday at Morrell Gym.
Bowdoin (21-6) was ranked 23rd in the D3hoops.com national poll.
The Polar Bears shot 34 percent, including 6 of 27 from the 3-point line.
Shannon Brady led Bowdoin with 20 points, many of them late in the game. She was bottled up early.
“We wanted our post players around her,” Barrett said.
During timeouts, Bowdoin Coach Adrienne Shibles urged her team to get the ball in close.
“They were packing in the paint,” Shibles said. “We made some poor decisions as far as taking a lot of outside shots and not working the ball inside.
“When you’re open you want to shoot it, but our bigs are one of our strengths. We allowed them to take that away from us.”
Castleton wasn’t shooting lights out early, when Bowdoin took a 26-17 lead with 3:30 left in the half. The Spartans closed to a 29-23 halftime deficit.
“I think we were overwhelmed with the atmosphere,” Desroches said. “We calmed down and took our shots in the rhythm of our offense.”
The Spartans shot 24 percent in the first half but 43 percent in the second. Early in the second half, Castleton State went on a 14-0 run for a 40-33 lead.
“Right when we started our run back I thought, ‘We can do this. We can do this,’ ” said Desroches, who scored on strong drives as well as four 3-pointers.
“We just let (Desroches) do way too much,” Shibles said.
That’s what Barrett sensed.
“She’s a special player and I told her early in the game that we’re not going to win this game unless you look to score,” Barrett said.
Bowdoin closed within two, but another Spartans run, this one 9-0, put Castleton State up 51-40.
With 2:20 left Bowdoin closed within five, but Desroches hit a desperation runner as the shot clock ran down to make it 55-48.
The Polar Bears had one chance to tie, down 63-60, but missed a hurried 3-pointer. Brady scored on a putback. Desroches hit a free throw with one second left for the final score.
“They had a big run and we just didn’t stop them,” said Bowdoin point guard Kirsten Prue of Auburn. “We had some good opportunities but the shots didn’t fall.”
Megan Phelps of Southwest Harbor scored 16 points for the Polar Bears.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: