By Jon Wilson / Sports Information Staff
MANSFIELD – Senior forwards Khiara Valentine (Morristown, NJ) and Morgan Sanson (Thomaston) scored three minutes apart in the first five minutes of the game in lifting the Eastern Connecticut State University field hockey team to a 3-1 victory over the Westfield State University Owls (4-14, 1-10 LEC) Friday afternoon and keeping Eastern's (5-11, 4-7 LEC) Little East Conference tournament hopes alive.
Eastern jumped on a vulnerable Westfield State defense early in the game and refused to look back in a game where all four goals were scored in the first half.
The Warriors came into the game needing a victory in each of their final two LEC matchups to have a chance to qualify for that eighth and final tournament spot. Their qualification is also contingent on Salem State University (9-7, 5-6 LEC) being upset by host Bridgewater State University (2-12, 2-8 LEC) on November 1. Unofficially, a Bridgewater State victory puts the Warriors conference tournament hopes in their own hands on November 2, where they travel to Fitchburg State University (2-14, 1-9 LEC) for the final game of their season.
Friday's win – Eastern's third in its last four home contests -- snaps Eastern's four-game losing streak against the Owls, in which the Warriors had been outscored a combined total of 15 to 3.
Valentine scored her fourth goal of the season 2:05 into play, and Sanson added her second goal of the season just three minutes later. After the Owls cut the lead in half on sophomore forward Shannon Roycroft's sixth goal of the year five minutes into the second quarter, senior midfielder Sydney Hogan (Northford) restored the two-goal Eastern edge with her third goal of the year with four minutes left in the first half.
Just five minutes into the second period, Westfield State had the Warriors pinned back on their goal line, but junior defender Heather Sholtes (Bethel) cleared a shot from sophomore forward Allie Giguere off the line to preserve that two-goal lead. Moments after earning a penalty corner while Sholtes was recording a defensive save, Westfield jumped back into the game on Roycroft's goal, which was set up on pass to the left post by junior midfielder Marina Small. With the goal, Roycroft pulled into a share of the team lead in that category.
Valentine's goal in the opening minutes followed a re-start. Sophomore midfielders Bryce Makula (Guilford) and Sydney Collentine (New Fairfield) exchanged passes following the re-start, with Makula topping the ball and sending it from the dotted line into the circle. Valentine reached to her right to settle the ball, turned to her left and swept a shot that found its way between the pads of sophomore starting goalie Riley Goulet (Marion, MA) to give Eastern the early lead.
At right: Khiara Valentine celebrates her goal in the opening minutes of the 3-1 win over Westfield State University Friday. (Photo by Sara Pisanelli)
Minutes later, Eastern capitalized on Westfield's turnover in its own end. Eastern midfielder Brianna Nolan (Watertown) stole the ball from Westfield senior midfielder Anna Matthews and slotted a pass into the circle. As Westfield sophomore defender Autumn Metivier overran the ball, Sanson reached to control the ball with her left hand, and moving right to left, back-handed it past Goulet to make it 2-0.
Hogan's goal – her first since scoring both goals in a 2-0 LEC home win over Salem State University more than five weeks ago -- killed the game off. The third goal originated on freshman defender Grace Mangiameli's (Suffield) free hit in front of the Westfield bench. Valentine gained control on the baseline and poked it to Hogan, who backhanded it by Westfield junior goalie Katie Vamosi.
The teams combined for only three shots after the break. The Warrior defense held strong, thanks to solid defensive play lead by senior Amy Smith (Trumbull).
Eastern hosts Mount Holyoke College Tuesday at 5 p.m. in a non-conference match.