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May 4, 2017

UMass splits weekend in dramatic fashion

A last-second goal kept the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team from taking first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

This past weekend was filled with two tight contests for the Minutewomen (8-8, 5-2 A-10), the latter of which halted them from nabbing the top seed in the upcoming A-10 tournament.

“I’m glad we played two really tight games,” UMass coach Alexis Venechanos said. “Those experiences [can] only help us with kind of what we need to do and what we can’t do. [We] kind of have everything covered in that sense.”

On Friday night, UMass went into double overtime in order to find a result over Saint Joseph’s, the team it played in last year’s A-10 championship game.

Despite the Hawks (2-14, 0-7 A-10) laying low in nearly all conference statistics, they put up a fight against the Minutewomen. UMass opened up the game with a 3-0 lead, but SJU spat four goals right back. Both traded another goal to put the score at 5-4.

Five straight goals came from UMass in the opening of the second period, but it couldn’t keep the Hawks down, as they broke the lead to a single goal. The Minutewomen returned with two more scores to take a commanding 12-9 lead. SJU came right back, notching four straight goals to take a 13-12 lead over the defending A-10 champions.

Attacker Nina Sarcona knotted up the score for UMass, but neither team could find the net again, as the clock expired after two periods of play. For the first time in the 2010 season, the Minutewomen headed to overtime.

Neither team could get it done in the first period of overtime, with goalkeeper Christina Fey earning two saves to stop the Hawks from earning the win. With neither team finding the back of the net, the game went to a sudden death second overtime period.

Midfielder Jackie Lyons was the hero for UMass as she took the ball with just over a minute remaining and scored the game-winning goal for the Minutewomen.

Think that was dramatic?

UMass had its second game of the weekend on Sunday when it took on La Salle. The game was a pound-for-pound battle, and went right down to the wire.

“It was a ‘get in there and muscle your way in’ [kind of game]. It was a physical game,” Venechanos said.

The game against the Explorers (9-6, 5-2 A-10) started off with a three-goal run by UMass, with goals from attacker Stephanie Hopkins and midfielders Danielle Pelletier and Merritt Cosgrove.

Pelletier had her hands in the first two goals, assisting on the first. After back-and-forth passes between Pelletier and Hopkins, the senior attacker made a quick turn and scored the opening goal for the Minutewomen.

Moments later, Pelletier found herself guarded heavily by the La Salle defense. After a flashy spin move, Pelletier found an open net for her to score in.

Following a dangerous attack by the Explorers, midfielder Jordan Renna added to the mix. Off the fast break, Renna sprinted down the field and soon passed it off to Cosgrove who netted the third goal for UMass.

After three minutes and 44 seconds passed, the Minutewomen had a 3-0 lead on La Salle, but it was not for long, as La Salle came right back with three straight goals to knot up the match.

Despite physical play and a swarming UMass defense, the Explorers pursued the net and found success. At the 10:27 mark, the perseverance paid off, as La Salle attacker Lauren McDermott notched her first goal to break the tie.

Sarcona brought the Minutewomen back into the game four minutes later with a jumping shot that sailed into the back of the net.

With the score even, neither team budged for the remainder of the first half. Lyons had an opportunity near the net, but the ball ricocheted off the post. The Explorers pushed forward in the final moments, but a physical UMass defense held them to an even score at the break.

The second half started off slower than the first, with the first goal coming nearly four minutes in from Lyons. McDermott did not let the 5-4 lead stand, as she notched in a score to keep the game level after fluid and quick passing by La Salle.

Nearly two minutes later, UMass went on its second three-goal run of the afternoon. Through nine minutes of play, midfielder Dayna Defliese, Sarcona and Lyons all notched scores to give the Minutewomen an 8-5 lead.

Even though attacker Stefany McKee notched an unassisted goal to bring the lead down to two goals, Lyons pushed right back less than thirty seconds later off a free position shot. With just over six minutes left, UMass had a 9-6 lead, and the game in its hands.

“I thought Jackie Lyons played a great game,” Venechanos said. “We need some more people stepping up on attack. And defensively, we did well; we had those two goals at the end.”

The Explorers did not see it that way, scoring a goal 39 seconds following Lyons’ second. Over the next four minutes, the Minutewomen defense held La Salle back, and all signs pointed towards a victory for the Maroon and White.

McDermott knocked in an unassisted goal to bring the lead down to one. In the final minute, the Explorers earned two free position shots. While the first went wide of the goal post, the second was a straight shot into the back of the net by midfielder Melanie Sarcinello. With 26 seconds left, the game was tied at nine apiece.

Off of a sloppy draw and a chase for the ball, La Salle regained possession with the clock dwindling down. The Explorers fled up the field, where McDermott sent a rocket into past goalkeeper Katie Florence with two seconds left on the clock, sealing the game.

“Credit to La Salle, I thought it was one of those games where it was a hard-fought dog fight,” Venechanos said. “I think both teams played a tough game Friday night. La Salle did a great job of playing until the end. We had to change a couple of things with the kind of the style that was going; it wasn’t too much of a finesse game.”

Throughout the game, the Minutewomen had nine draw controls and 18 groundballs. UMass went 2-for-7 on the free position, with La Salle right behind at 3-for-7. Despite the loss, the Minutewomen went nearly perfect on clears with 15-of-17.

“I thought we responded well, and in the end it wasn’t really there,” Venechanos said. “I was proud how we kept our composure to keep it a game.”

UMass travels to Pittsburg, Pa., for the A-10 tournament. It will be a rematch for the Minutewomen, as they take on La Salle next Friday at 3:30 p.m.

“We’re excited heading into the A-10 tournament,” Venechanos said. “It’s a fresh start, and we’re looking forward to having another opportunity on Friday.”

Herb Scribner can be reached at hscribne@student.umass.edu.

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