Strong defense leads UMass women’s lacrosse to ugly win, first place in A-10

Minutewomen allowed just three goals over final 52 minutes

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Strong defense leads UMass women’s lacrosse to ugly win, first place in A-10

(Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Haines, Assistant Sports Editor

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After falling behind 5-2 in the first eight minutes, the Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team recovered to pull out an ugly 11-8 win over Saint Joseph’s at Garber Field Sunday afternoon.

Contending with a driving rainstorm that resulted in a slew of missed passes and 53 combined turnovers, UMass (9-3, 4-0 Atlantic 10) managed to come back and tie the game by halftime. Just over a minute into the second half, junior Stephanie Croke fired a shot into the top right corner of the net to give the Minutewomen their first lead, and UMass took the lead for good a few minutes later.

“That first goal right out of halftime was really key for us – not just the goal, but the draw control as well,” coach Angela McMahon said. “We wanted to establish momentum and set the tempo for the second half, and I think we did exactly that. I think the first 10 minutes or so of that second half is where we really rose up and won the game.”

The Minutewomen looked sluggish out of the gate, giving Saint Joseph’s clean looks in gaps in the defense while failing to muster any sustained offense. When McMahon called timeout with 22:13 left in the first half, Saint Joseph’s (7-5, 3-1 A-10) had gone up 5-2.

“We just needed to take the extra second to actually focus on our passes, and that’s what we did after we brought it together,” Croke said. “So just staying calm, collected, and focusing on our passes really helped us.”

After the timeout, the defense settled down and turned in a stellar performance over the final 52 minutes, allowing just three more goals down the stretch and finishing with 16 caused turnovers. Despite four yellow cards against the Minutewomen, Saint Joseph’s didn’t score on any of its man-up opportunities and surrendered a shorthanded goal.

In the final 10 minutes, down by two, the Hawks hammered away at the UMass defense. Saint Joseph’s held the ball almost the entire time, taking six shots in those final 10 minutes, including three free-position attempts. The Minutewomen, led by some spectacular saves from goaltender Lauren Hiller and heavy pressure all around, didn’t surrender a goal.

“Our defense made a ton of plays,” McMahon said. “I was so impressed with that second half, in the last 10 minutes, how long we were on defense for, and they just stepped up big time. I thought they battled, and they played smart. Just really happy to come away with the win.”

Hiller, who returned from an injury at the start of the A-10 schedule, played arguably her finest game of the season. She was noticeably more aggressive on defense, finishing with 10 saves and four ground balls.

“It feels good to finally be back,” Hiller said. “I feel like today was my first fully-back game, and especially with everyone on our defense becoming fully connected, it was easier for me to do my job when they’re all doing such a good job on their end.”

With the win, UMass takes sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10. Saint Joseph’s falls into a tie for second with George Mason and defending A-10 champion Richmond.

“They’re a really good team,” Hiller said of the Hawks. “I think they’ve definitely stepped up their game over the time that I’ve been here, and they’re definitely going to be a contender for us going down the stretch. I honestly hope that we see them again, they’re a really good team and they’re fun to play against.”

UMass goes on the road next weekend looking to remain undefeated in the A-10, with games against Duquesne and St. Bonaventure.

Thomas Haines can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @thainessports.