Courtesy of Middlebury Sports Information
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - Middlebury scored the game's final two goals, as the Panthers won their 10th NESCAC Championship on Sunday with a 10-9 triumph over Tufts on Kohn Field. With the victory, the top-seeded Panthers improve to 17-1, while the second-seeded Jumbos fall to 16-2 with both losses coming against Middlebury. The Panthers, which pushed their winning streak to 17-straight games, earned the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, while Tufts will hope for an at-large invitation when the field is announced on Sunday night (9:30 p.m. at NCAA.com).
The game was tight throughout the opening half, with one goal being the biggest lead for either team. Middlebury's Emma McDonagh opened the scoring 3:09 into the contest, beating her defender and sliding a low shot past Jumbo goalie Audrey Evers. Emily Games and Catherine Lawliss responded for Tufts with scores just over a minute apart, giving them a 2-1 advantage.
Jane Earley helped the Panthers catapult back in front, setting up Kirsten Murphy with a pass from behind the net and then fed a cutting Jenna McNicholas for a 3-2 lead. Colette Smith used an underhand shot through traffic to knot the game at 3-3 for the Jumbos, but Earley scored in transition following an interception by Erin Nicholas. Tufts closed out the opening frame with back-to-back tallies, as Cecily Freliech scored with 3:32 remaining and Games cashed in on a free-position attempt in the final two minutes for a 5-4 lead at the break.
Tufts scored twice in the first five minutes of the second, taking its biggest lead of the contest at 7-4. Middlebury crept back to 7-6 on a Murphy tally from the top of the crease, while Earley tucked a shot high on the short side with 22:46 remaining.
Lawliss put the visitors back in front by two goals (8-6), after taking a quick feed at the top of the crease from Kirsten Grazewski with a player advantage.
Earley got Middlebury even, firing a high shot past Jumbo goalie Molly Laliberty and another on a free-position attempt while a player up. Annie Sullivan gave Tufts its final lead of the game (9-8), directing a shot from the right wing inside the far post with 8:17 showing on the clock.
Middlebury's defense came up big with 5:52 left, as Julia Keith made a save on a low shot by Smith that would have pushed the margin back to two goals. After a successful clear, Earley went high again on a free-position attempt to tie the game at 9-9 with 5:08 showing on the scoreboard. Casey O'Neill won the ensuing draw control for the Panthers and McDonagh netted what turned out to be the deciding goal with 4:04 left to play, scoring on a low shot from the left side.
The Jumbos had a chance to force overtime with possession in the final minute and had a restart to the right of the Panther net in the waning seconds. Middlebury's Erica Barr used a stick check on Games to knock the ball free and Emma White scooped up the ground ball as the horn sounded to secure the one-goal victory.
Earley finished with a career-high eight points on five goals and three assists to go along with four draw controls and two caused turnovers, while McDonagh and Murphy each netted a pair. O'Neill had a game-best five draw controls, while Keith (15-1) finished with six saves.
For Tufts, Games, Lawliss and Maddie Norman each scored twice, while Lily Baldwin had four draw controls and two ground balls. Evers played the first half and finished with three saves, while Laliberty (5-2) made five stops in the final 30 minutes.
For the 13th-straight game, Middlebury's defense held an opponent to single digits and the 16th time overall. The victory also kept the Panthers perfect again ranked opponents, going 12-0 in those contests.