MANSFIELD, Conn. -- Within a week, the Eastern Connecticut State University and Plymouth State University women's lacrosse teams exchanged one-goal wins. Eastern's came last Saturday and provided the Warriors with the all-important home field advantage (and undefeated season) in the playoffs. Plymouth's came today, and gave the Panthers the more-important LEC playoff championship.
On Saturday at the Mansfield Outdoor Complex in the 2017 championship contest, top-seeded Eastern (14-5) relinquished the momentum of an early three-goal lead as second-seeded Plymouth State responded with five straight goals in a span of seven minutes on the way to a 13-12 victory and its sixth title in the 16-year history of the championship.
Appearing in its fourth straight title game and tenth overall, Plymouth took a four-goal lead into the final 15 minutes before withstanding a late Eastern surge that brought the Warriors to the brink of tying the game in the final seconds.
Sophomore attack Sam Fiore, who had managed only two goals in the team's first 13 matches, gave Plymouth a four-goal lead with 15:14 left on an assist from junior attack Megan Tingley, but the Warriors battled back to outscore the Panthers 5-2 the rest of the way. Fiore's third assist of the season set up senior midfielder Caroline Vonachen with what appeared to be a clinching goal that gave the visitors a 13-10 lead with 1:21 left. Plymouth won the ensuing draw with a chance to put the game away, but turned it over 30 seconds later. Eastern junior attack Katie Burke (South Windsor) followed by converting a free-position shot with 42 seconds left, then corralled the next draw and fed freshman attack Alyssa Powers (Ellington) to cut Plymouth's lead to one, 13-12, with 30 seconds left.
With the draws even at 13-13, Eastern maintained life by winning its 14th of the game, then was able to avoid a turnover and move the ball up field as the clock wound down. The Warriors passed the ball in front of the crease but Plymouth's defense did not allow a shot as time expired.
Tournament MVP Sam Sullivan and Vonachen combined for nine goals and three assists, and were largely responsible for helping their team re-gain the early momentum. During the Panthers' five-goal surge that gave them the lead for good midway through the first half, Vonachen contributed a goal and two assists and Sullivan two goals (in a span of 70 seconds). Sullivan tied the game, 3-3, then netted the goal that put her team ahead for good.
Sullivan finished with five goals and an assist to give her eight goals in two tournament games and Vonachen potted four goals with two assists against Eastern.
Tingley, who connected on what proved to be the winning goal in a 9-8 semifinal win over two-time defending champion Keene State College Thursday, dominated with her overall play Saturday with two goals, five assists, six ground balls, four draws and a caused turnover.
Senior goalie Meg Brault needed only five stops in net as Plymouth outshot Eastern by ten, despite failing on ten of 12 free-position attempts. Sophomore midfielder Kimmie Zuccaro won four draws to help the Panthers to a +5 advantage in that department at the half.
Senior Taylor Emmerson (Colchester) made ten saves in net for Eastern.
Powers, senior midfielder Paige Schneider (East Lyme) and sophomore attack Michelina Pinto (Groton) all had three goals for Eastern, while Burke had four helpers that left her one shy of the program's season assist record of 47. Schneider, who played the tournament with a heavily taped left knee that hampered her mobility throughout, finished the season with a conference-leading 71 goals, the third-most in a season in program history. Her final total of 191 career goals is fourth-highest all-time.
Senior defender Devyne Doran (South Kingstown, RI) had five ground balls and three caused turnovers and won three draws for Eastern, with senior Caroline Regan (Niantic) winning three draws and picking up three ground balls.
In two LEC tournament games which included an 11-8 semifinal home win over four-seeded Western Connecticut, Burke topped the Warriors with nine points (four goals, five assists), with Powers finishing with six goals and an assist, Schneider six goals and Pinto four goals and an assist. Burke and Regan each won five draws and Doran four but as a team, the Warriors lost eight more than they won. Junior defender Katie Calnen (Granby) won a team-best eight ground balls, Doran adding seven and Regan six. Emmerson averaged 11 saves in two games with a .512 save percentage.
Eastern and Plymouth were meeting in the LEC tournament for the tenth time, sixth time in the championship game. The Panthers have won six of the tournament meetings games and improved to 4-2 against Eastern in title games. Eastern is 4-7 in championship games, last winning in 2013. Plymouth is 6-4 in championship games.