May 5, 2013

Warriors Complete Improbable LEC Playoff Run

GORHAM, Maine -- You could not argue that the Eastern Connecticut State University women's lacrosse team did not have one of its best regular seasons in program history in 2013. But you can't argue that, come post-season tournament time, their timing was impeccable.

In a development thought by many to be impossible ten short days ago, the fifth-seeded Warriors avenged three regular-season conference losses with road victories over higher-seeded opponent in the 2013 Little East Conference playoffs, capping their run with a 10-7 triumph over second-seeded University of Southern Maine Sunday afternoon.

The championship game was a re-match of the 2010 final, when Southern Maine (12-7) completed a sweep of the No. 4, No. 1 and No. 2 seeds with a 15-14 conquest of Eastern on its home field. This year, Eastern (7-11) atoned for regular-season losses in the playoffs with  victories over No. 4 Western Connecticut (15-7) and No. 1 Plymouth State University (8-6) before completing its work by upending Southern Maine Sunday. Eastern had lost at Plymouth, 11-7 on Apriil 13, at Southern Maine a week later, 16-10, and at home to Western Connecticut, 15-7, six days prior to eliminating the Colonials on their home field.

 The championship makes Eastern the conference's representative to the NCAA Division III tournament, which gets underway with first-round games Wednesday. It will be the fourth NCAA qualification for the program -- all coming in the last eight seasons -- and third for the Warriors under seventh-year head coach Christine Hutchison.

By winning its fourth title, Eastern pulls even with Plymouth State for total championships won in LEC competition. The championship game appearance was the tenth in 12 years for the Warriors, who have failed to advance to the ultimate game in only 2004 and last year, when the third-seeded team was eliminated in the semifinals by second-seeded and eventual champion Keene State College by one goal. Since winning the 2008 championship, Eastern had been beaten as the No. 1 seed in the 2009 and 2011 title games.

The three-game winning streak is the longest of the season for Eastern, which had lost five of six road contests through the end of the regular season.

It marks the third time in four years that the No. 5 seed has advanced to the title game, following Southern Maine in 2010 and Western Connecticut (which lost to Keene State) last year.

Sunday, junior attack Erin Conn (Moriches, NY) -- the tournament's Most Outstanding Player -- scored twice in three minutes after the Huskies had scored 17 seconds into action. junior Ashley Wolk (Barrington, RI) and senior Taylor Buchanan (Ellington) converted their first goals 32 seconds apart minutes later to propel the Warriors to a 4-1 advantage midway through the first half. Eastern's defense never allowed the Huskies closer than two goals the rest of the way.

After her two early goals, Conn was kept quiet by Southern Maine, which also prevented team scoring leader Daniela Marchitto (Orange) from taking a shot. Buchanan, however, stepped up by equalling her season-high with four goals -- on four shots -- and adding an assist. Buchanan, playing this season with a brace due to ACL surgery, had managed only two total goals in the last four matches. Following her early goal, Buchanan netted her second late in the first half to give the Warriors a 6-3 halftime cushion, made it 8-3 five minutes into the second half, and 10-6 with nine minutes left.

Senior defender Rachel Meotti (Glastonbury) -- the team leader in ground balls this season -- picked up seven Sunday, also won three draws and caused three turnovers, while junior Haley Heslin (Hartford) made four stops in net.

Sarah Pelligrinelli, Rosie Forster and Jacki Kelly -- Southern Maine's top three goal-scorers this season with a combined total of 111 -- were limited to  a total of four Sunday. The Huskies had won five of their last seven prior to Sunday, with a 13-12 LEC playoff win over Keene State in Friday's semifinals.