STANDISH — This St. Joseph’s College women’s basketball team can shift into a higher gear, quickly.

The Monks did it again Saturday, turning a halftime deficit into a romp as St. Joseph’s beat Suffolk, 73-59, in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship game Saturday afternoon at the Harold Alfond Center.

Top-seeded St. Joseph’s advances to the NCAA Division III tournament for the third straight year and fourth time in five years. Pairings will be announced Monday.

The Monks (27-1) also continued the best season in school history, winning their 26th straight game. No. 3 Suffolk finished at 21-7, with three losses to St. Joseph’s.

“No shame to lose to them,” Suffolk Coach Ed Leyden said. “They’re very solid. I like their team.”

St. Joseph’s outscored Suffolk 25-6 in the third quarter. Kelsi McNamara, a 5-foot-6 junior guard, scored 13 of her 24 points in the quarter, hitting three of her five 3-pointers. She was chosen the tournament MVP.

“Kelsi does what Kelsi does. She’s the best player on the floor,” Monks Coach Mike McDevitt said. “When we need a big hoop, she’s willing to step up and take it.”

All five St. Joseph’s starters scored in double figures. Emily Benway dominated underneath with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Hannah Marks scored 13 points, and Julia Champagne and Regan McFerran each added 10.

Suffolk freshman guard Jennie-Rose DiCecco scored 24 points.

Suffolk gave the Monks their biggest scare during the winning streak, losing 82-79 on Jan. 27 in Boston. The Rams led 62-49 after three quarters before the Monks stormed back.

The Rams watched another St. Joseph’s comeback on Saturday, albeit from a smaller deficit.

“We fought like hell, but they executed better,” Leyden said.

The teams battled back and forth in the first half, with six lead changes and three ties. The Rams hit eight 3-pointers – by six players – and led 36-35 at halftime.

“We had a game plan and we weren’t following it,” said Marks, a junior from Waldoboro. “We made adjustments in the second half. Defensively, our help was better.”

In the second half, Suffolk scored on its first possession but got nothing its next six times down the court.

Meanwhile, McNamara was scorching. She made a 3-pointer, drove for a basket and after a Benway layup, then two free throws and another 3-pointer. Suddenly, St. Joseph led 47-38.

“It got us going,” McNamara said of her first 3-pointer. “But we were all ready to go. We knew we had to step it up.”

Leyden called two timeouts during the run and eventually put his tallest player, 5-11 Alexis Hackett, to guard McNamara. She still made another 3-pointer and added two of her seven assists.

Furthering the Monks’ cause =were Brianne Maloney taking a charge from DiCecco (her fourth foul) and Marks hitting a half-court shot at the buzzer for 60-42 lead.

The Rams shot only 28 percent in the second half to the Monks’ 54 percent, and St. Joseph’s controlled the boards with a 39-27 edge, led by the 5-10 Benway.

“She’s really athletic and she goes hard to the basket. That’s a good combination,” McDevitt said as he watched his players celebrate.

“Our kids have been here before. … No one panicked. We (have) a lot of experience playing out there.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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