MEDFORD, Mass. – The University of New England women’s basketball team’s was in position to complete a comeback victory Friday night in the opening round of NCAA Division III tournament.

But there was one obstacle the Nor’easters couldn’t overcome — Johns Hopkins’ 6-foot-1 center, Alex Vassila.

With the Blue Jays protecting a one-point lead in the closing seconds, Vassila stood her ground and recorded her sixth block of the game as 5-foot-4 guard Kari Pelletier drove to the basket. Johns Hopkins gathered in the ball, and Chantal Mattiola added a free throw with .2 second left to finish off a 53-51 win at Tufts University.

“We thought we could sneak Kari in to the basket. She’d gotten there before. We thought she got hit, you can decide for yourself,” UNE Coach Anthony Ewing said.

“We wanted something going to the basket where we were either going to get a layup or get to the foul line.”

Kelley Paradis scored 20 points, with three 3-pointers, six rebounds and five steals in her final game for UNE (22-6). Kelly Coleman, a freshman, finished with 14 points.

Johns Hopkins (24-4) controlled most of the game and led by as many as 11 points, the last time with 6:45 to play.

“I’m not surprised that they kept their heads in it and kept plugging away because that’s what they’ve always done,” Ewing said of his team. “These three seniors have literally done that for four years now so I expect no different.”

With four straight 20-win seasons and an 89-27 overall record, the senior class of Pelletier, Paradis and Morgan Russell won more games than any class in UNE history. The one thing that eluded them was an NCAA tournament victory.

“We were (in the NCAA tournament) two years ago and it didn’t go so well so we knew this was our chance,” Paradis said. “Even when we got down 10, 11, whatever it was, we were just excited that we were in this game and we just had to refocus, and that’s when the game started coming back.”

Paradis and Coleman powered the final comeback. Paradis converted a steal into a three-point play, then hit her third 3-pointer of the game. Coleman scored on a post move, then stole a pass and went in for a layup, cutting the deficit to 47-46 with 4:11 left.

It was the last basket for UNE. Five UNE free throws (on six attempts) and five points by Vassila left Hopkins ahead by 1 with 1:55 remaining.

UNE had three chances to take the lead but turned it over twice prior to the last possession.

Johns Hopkins’ powerful duo of Vassila and freshman Haley Bush combined for 26 rebounds as the Blue Jays held a 45-31 rebounding edge. Vassila finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Blue Jays Coach Nancy Funk praised her team’s defense against UNE’s 3-point shooting. Paradis was 3 for 6, but the rest of the team was 0 for 9.

“We certainly knew (UNE) was a very good team. (Paradis) is an outstanding player and (Coleman) had a nice game for them,” Funk said.

“They have a lot of weapons in their top seven, so we had to be very aware of who was coming in.”