Published February 27. 2014 4:00AM
New London — When Torie Sutherland's rainbow 3-pointer swished home late in Wednesday's fiercely competitive game, Coast Guard Academy still had a fighter's chance.
The Bears trailed by just two with 29 seconds remaining in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference women's basketball quarterfinal.
But there would be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Third-seeded Coast Guard's comeback fell short, losing to No. 6 Springfield College, 57-54. The Bears couldn't overcome a poor shooting performance and some late mistakes.
The defeat was difficult for the Bears (19-7) to swallow. They posted the second most wins in program history and had hoped to win their first conference tournament game since 2008.
"Obviously, we're very upset," coach Alex Ivansheck said. "We had high goals and really wanted to be playing this weekend and advancing, so it was tough.
"And we had two great leaders in Kaitlin Ward and Brittney Zimmerman. So it's just sad not having them be around next year."
A teary-eyed Zimmerman emerged from a quiet locker room to talk about her team. She had a team-high 13 points and Ward added 11 points while Sutherland added 10.
Zimmerman took the game's last shot - a contested 3-pointer that hit the side of the rim at the buzzer. The Bears had little time coming out of a timeout with 3.5 seconds left.
"It was very rushed...," Zimmerman said. "You can't really rely on a last second shot. If we would have executed early on, we would have had it."
Using just a seven-player rotation, the Bears battled to stay in the game while shooting just 32 percent from the field. They rode a 13-2 run to take a 22-16 lead but trailed 25-24 at the break.
Springfield (15-11) relied on its height advantage and free throw shooting (15-for-19 overall) to extend its lead to eight in the second half. The Pride scored 24 points in the paint overall.
Coast Guard chipped away at the deficit. Sutherland, who missed all six shots in the first half, heated up. Her 3-pointer handed CGA a 45-44 edge with 6:41 left.
The Pride seized the lead for good when Jaimie Bickelhaupt (13 points, 11 rebounds) scored five straight points. Her two free throws increased the Pride's advantage to 56-51 with 40 seconds left.
Sutherland's rainbow 3-pointer cut the gap to two. Then Springfield's Andrea Moschetta's made one of two free throws to make it 57-54.
The Bears had two possessions to try to tie the game. A turnover and Zimmerman's last-second miss ended their season.
"Our end of the game execution was a little sloppy," Ivansheck said.
Coast Guard swept the regular season series, winning two close games including escaping with a 43-42 win on Saturday.
The Bears still had reason to celebrate, as they won nine more games than last season.
"We're moving in the right direction, definitely," Ivansheck said. "The turnaround has been outstanding. The players are buying into the program and that's terrific.
"Hopefully we can keep going."
Zimmerman's playing days may be over but she hopes to be back with the team as a student coach next season.
"We're a bunch of sisters...," Zimmerman said. "I can't walk away from the team. After all this, no way."