Zach Thomann, Sports Editor
Men’s Basketball Enters Playoffs on a Hot Streak
After starting conference play with a 6-5 record, the Pioneers rattled off a six-game winning streak to take the third spot in the Empire 8 tournament.
UC would need all six of those wins to reach the playoffs as seeds 3-5 were separated by one game. If the Pioneers lost a sixth game in conference play, it would have put the team in a tie for fourth with St. John Fisher College, who owned the tiebreaker.
The last two games of the season would be a test for Utica when the team took on Alfred University and Stevens Institute of Technology, who were two of the top-three teams in the conference.
Utica started the game against Alfred strong taking a 10-point lead going into halftime as the team never looked back. Sophomore Hunter Remley led the way in scoring for the Pioneers with 18 points as Utica went on to win 85-73. The win put UC in a tie with Alfred and would ultimately help jump the Saxons in the conference standings.
In their final regular season game, the Pioneers needed a win to ensure a spot in the playoffs.
It would prove to be a huge night for senior Ivan Iton, who had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 blocks. Utica would need his production late in the game when the team trailed the Ducks by 14 in the second half.
After cutting the lead to three, sophomore Tyler Jollie hit a game-tying three-point shot to send the game into overtime. Utica would go on to win 75-71 and secure the 3-seed in the Empire 8 tournament.
Iton is not surprised by the team’s six-game winning streak and is excited to play in the playoffs again in his last season.
“I play every game like it’s my last and give 110 percent,” Iton said. “I won’t be playing too much different come this weekend. I’ve put in the work, my team has put in the work and we trust our preparation. We’re all excited for this rematch of last year’s E8 semifinal on Friday.”
After facing Stevens a week ago, the Pioneers and Ducks will meet again for a chance to play in the conference championship. The Pioneers lost to Stevens last season in the semifinals 79-71, and Iton is hopeful for a different result.
“Stevens is a great team, and I think this is going to be a dogfight from the tip,” Iton said. “I think it’s hard for anyone to beat a team twice, but I know our coaching staff is going to do everything possible to prepare and put us in the best position to win. We trust each other from the coaching staff to the players, and I think we will be able to pull out a win and advance to the championship game.”
UC will take on Stevens at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23, at Nazareth College.
Men’s and Women’s Hockey Each Host First-Round Playoff Games
The Eastern College Athletic Conference playoffs have been a familiar site for both the Utica College men’s and women’s hockey teams as each has made the playoffs in nine of the last 10 seasons.
In their first season under the United Collegiate Hockey Conference (UCHC), the men’s and women’s teams will host a first-round playoff game. This will be the fifth time hosting a playoff game for the men’s team in the last seven seasons and the sixth time for the women in that same span.
Both teams have shown success in the past but have not captured a conference championship. Each team has won five playoff games in the past two seasons and hope to continue the success in a new conference.
The women’s team is riding a seven-game point streak heading into the playoffs at 14-9-2 this year after finishing fourth in the UCHC with a 9-5-2 conference record. During the streak, UC is outscoring its opponents 33-4.
Senior Carlie Smith had six goals and five assists in that span, and sophomore Olivia Hirschy added six goals and two assists. The Lady Pioneers will host Neumann University at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the Adirondack Bank Center.
Home games have been a strength for the women’s team after compiling a 10-3 record on their own ice.
The men’s team is 19-5-1 this season and is leading the UCHC with a 12-4 record.
The Pioneers have outscored opponents 120-50 this year and have drawn an average crowd of 3,368 for 14 home games.
Senior Roman Ammirato leads the team with a record-setting 20 goals on the season. Classmate Dalton Carter leads the Pioneers with 25 assists.
Utica will host the semifinal game at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Like the women’s team, home games have also been a strength for the men’s team this season as it finished with a 12-1-1 record on home ice.
Senior Vince Stefan said winning the conference is the main goal the team established at the beginning of the season.
“Staying healthy during this time of year is crucial if we want to win our conference and make a run at the NCAA tournament,” Stefan said. “I think that if we stick to our gameplan and play our brand of hockey for a full 60 minutes each night we can do big things.”
Stefan believes that having each game potentially being his last will not change the way he plays on the ice.
“I have always played with the mindset of every shift being my last,” Stefan said. “Having an injury at the beginning of the season really put it in perspective for me that hockey can be taken away at any moment. Knowing any game could be my last at UC is nerve racking but being out there battling with my teammates until the very end is what it’s all about, and I wouldn’t want to do it with a different group of guys or have it any other way.”