MANSFIELD, Conn. – A game which featured the top four scorers in the Little East Conference was, by and large, dominated by defense as top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University rode early momentum to an 11-8 victory over fourth-seeded Western Connecticut State University in the semifinal round of the LEC women's lacrosse playoffs Thursday afternoon at the Mansfield Outdoor Complex.
With its sixth straight victory this year and sixth LEC tournament win over Western (9-10) in as many tries since 2003, Eastern advances to its 11th championship match since 2002 and will face second-seeded Plymouth State University (10-3). The second-seeded Panthers eliminated third-seeded and two-time defending champion Keene State College, 9-8, in Thursday's other semifinal at Plymouth, NH.
Eastern and Plymouth will meet in the title game for the sixth time, but first since 2007. The teams had met in five of the first six championship games, with Plymouth winning three times, but the Warriors prevailed the only time the clubs met in the final at Eastern. Eastern has won four titles, most recently in its last finals appearance in 2013, and Plymouth five crowns, most recently in 2014. Plymouth and Keene had met in the previous three championship games, Plymouth winning in 2014.
Against Western Thursday, Eastern withstood a Western upset bid when the Colonials took hold of the momentum and scored the final five goals over the final 17 minutes, four coming off the stick of freshman Brooke Baldelli, Western's second-leading scorer.
Junior Olivia Kosilla and senior Destinee Carey – ranked 1-2 in the LEC in points – were rendered virtually ineffective by the Eastern defense throughout the game, the pair combining for only three goals and six points. Carey and Kosilla recorded their team's first two goals but the Warriors broke from an early tie by holding Western scoreless for 35 minutes in piling up what proved to be an insurmountable 10-2 lead seven minutes into the second half.
Eastern's offensive balance was the story of the game, with five eight different players contributing to the decisive eight-goal run (five scoring goals and three adding assists).
Senior Paige Schneider (East Lyme), the LEC's leading goal-scorer, gave Eastern the lead for good, 3-2, 11 minutes into action, and freshman Alyssa Powers (Ellington) chipped in three in that stretch, with LEC junior assist leader Katie Burke (South Windsor) contributing a goal and assist.
Western got themselves back in contention by winning nine of the 12 draw controls contested in the second half, and outshooting the Warriors, 19-8, over the final 30 minutes.
Senior Taylor Emmerson (Colchester), the conference leader in save percentage and goals-against average, made 12 saves for Eastern, including a key one on a free-position shot with 5:20 left to keep the Colonials from drawing any closer than four goals at that point.
After Western had scored five unanswered goals in an 11 minutes span, the Colonials had a chance to slice the deficit to two with 1:10 left when senior Andrea Tarsi caught a pass on the weak side, but her uncontested shot clanged off the left post. The shot was the first of three in succession for Western, but Emmerson saved the third inside the final 30 seconds and senior Caroline Regan (Niantic) recovered the ground ball and Eastern ran out the clock.
Burke, Schneider and Powers all had three goals for Eastern, with junior defender Katie Calnen (Granby) picking up five ground balls and causing two turnovers.
Kosilla led Western's charge back by winning six draws, with Baldelli causing four turnovers and sophomore Molly Gallagher three.
Making a bid for its second finals appearance in history, Western had turned back fifth-seeded UMass Dartmoouth, 17-9, in a first-round match Tuesday.
Eastern and Plymouth had earned first-round byes. The Warriors edged Plymouth, 9-8, in a battle of unbeatens on the final day of the regular season Saturday at Plymouth, NH.