FRAMINGHAM, Mass—In order for the Eastern Connecticut State University field hockey team to qualify for the Little East Conference playoffs for the sixth straight season, it is imperative that the Warriors beat the teams that they are expected to beat.
So far, they have done that.
Coming off a disappointing 2-1 overtime loss at the University of Southern Maine last Friday, Eastern (2-5, 2-1 LEC) scored an insurance goal five minutes into the second half and held off Framingham State University, 2-1, Wednesday at Maple Street Field.
Sophomore midfielder Bryce Makula (Guilford) scored her first career goal and senior forward Khiara Valentine (Morristown, NJ) had her first points of the season with a goal and assist to power the Warriors to their eighth straight win over Framingham (2-5, 1-2 LEC) in this 20-game series.
Sophomore goalie Keira Integlia (Branford) extended Framingham's scoreless streak against Eastern to 551 minutes and 14 seconds before sophomore forward Mallory Weir ruined the shutout 1:15 into the fourth quarter. The Rams had been shut out by five different Eastern goalies over parts of nine games since beating Eastern, 1-0, on their home field in 2011.
Integlia was called upon for single-digit saves for only the third time in seven starts, finishing with nine and getting a defensive save from senior Amy Smith (Trumbull) with four minutes left in the first quarter that preserved Eastern's 1-0 lead. Integlia lowered her goals-against average to 2.79 and improved her save percentage to .823. In three LEC games, she has a 0.94 GAA and .880 save percentage. She is averaging seven saves per match in the conference and nearly double that in seven matches overall.
A slim 13-12 advantage in shots and 15-10 margin in penalty corners allowed Eastern to outshoot and out-corner its opponent for the first time this year.
In three conference matches this year, Eastern has trailed just once – when Southern Maine broke a 1-1 tie with ten minutes gone in sudden death overtime on Friday.
Eastern is ranked tenth of 13 teams in the LEC pre-season coaches' poll and has come out on top this year against lower-ranked teams in Framingham (ranked 12th) and Salem State University (13). In addition to topping those lower-ranked teams, Eastern's near-miss against Southern Maine (the Huskies forcing overtime with five minutes left in regulation) came against the fourth-ranked team in the pre-season.
Eastern qualified for last year's LEC playoffs as the eighth and final seed while Framingham has missed out on the LEC playoffs the last nine seasons. In their last appearance in 2009, the Rams shared the LEC regular-season title and as the No. 4 seed, lost to Keene State in the playoff semifinals.
Eastern will face its stiffest conference test to date Saturday at 11 a.m. when it hosts six-time defending playoff champion Keene State College, which is a 14-time champion overall. Keene defeated Eastern in the Warriors' only trip to the LEC finals in 2015, 2-1. The Owls are 22-2 all-time against Eastern, which managed a 5-4 road upset two years ago in the regular season.