Courtesy Middlebury Sports Information
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — The Middlebury women’s lacrosse team earned the right to play for the program’s sixth NCAA Division III Championship as the Panthers defeated top-ranked Cortland State (21-1) 16-11 in a semifinal game at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Fifth-ranked Middlebury (21-1) faces the winner of the Trinity and Franklin & Marshall contest at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday in the national title game.
Middlebury ended the defending champion’s 40-game winning streak, while winning its 11th straight. The game was a rematch from last year’s semifinal where Cortland posted a 19-12 win. The win puts the Panthers back in the championship game for the first time since 2004, when they captured their fifth national title.
The Red Dragons opened the scoring 23 second into the game when Ashley Gentile tallied. Cortland won the ensuing draw and had another quality scoring chance by Nicole Bello, but a nice save by Katie Mandigo turned the ball over to the Panther offense.
Middlebury made the most of the possession as Bridget Instrum worked her way from behind the Red Dragon net to the top of the crease and fired a low shot to tie the game at a goal apiece. The Panthers took the lead with 26:20 showing on the clock when Chrissy Ritter ran straight through the middle of Cortland’s defense and laced a shot into the upper corner of the net.
Laurel Pascal increased Middlebury’s lead to 4-1 scoring consecutive goals. Her first tally, which was her 200th career point, came on a spin move to beat a defender and the second on a free-position attempt with 22:54 remaining.
The Red Dragons netted the next three goals with Hannah Elmer getting the final one in the stretch after a failed clear attempt by the Panthers with 12:20 left in the half.
Middlebury regained the lead when Instrum was patient with the ball on the left wing and used a burst of speed to get past the defender before ripping a high shot for a 5-4 lead. Instrum made it a two-goal advantage with 3:39 left in the half, capitalizing on a spin move along the crease resulting in her 60th goals of the season.
Cortland closed the margin to 6-5 with 3:03 left in the half on a goal by Tara Monaghan, but Alli Sciarrettagave the Panthers a huge boost going into the break, scoring inside the right post with less than a second left in the opening period for a 7-5 lead.
Key plays at both ends of the field got Middlebury off to a good start in the second half. Ritter caused a turnover and quickly collected the ground ball, while Pascal turned the possession into a goal with a shot from six meters out. Mary O’Connell made it a 9-5 just over three minutes into the half, dropping down to slide a low shot into the Red Dragon net. Megan Griffin made it a three-goal run to start the half with her first tally of the game from the right side of the net.
Following a timeout, the Red Dragons netted a quick goal, but the Panthers countered. O’Connell made it 11-6 only 12 seconds after Cortland scored. Instrum increased the lead to 12-6 (21:14), but the Red Dragons took advantage of a Panther player serving a penalty when Bello tallied on a free-position attempt.
Middlebury struck quickly again with the next two goals coming in a span of 11 seconds. O’Connell charged the net and dished a short pass to Sciarretta for the first goal, while O’Connell made it 14-7, off an assist from Ritter, who attacked the net from the right side.
Back-to-back goals by Cortland trimmed the difference to 14-9, but Pascal used a quick-stick as she was falling to the ground to touch in a pass from O’Connell. O’Connell’s fourth goal of the game increased the Panther lead to 16-9 with 11:12 remaining.
Cortland reached double figures to make it a 16-10 game with 7:37 left in regulation on a goal by Kristen Ohberg, but Mandigo made a timely save a minute later on a point-blank shot by Monaghan. The Red Dragons added a late goal in the final minute to make the final 16-11.
Mandigo backstopped the win with a career-high 14 saves and snared five ground balls. The defense, which held the Red Dragons to a season-low 12 goals, six goals under their season average, received three caused turnovers each from Ritter and Evie Keating, while Alex White scooped up five ground balls and Ritter had four.
O’Connell had a big game offensively for the Panthers with four goals and two assists, while Pascal and Instrum each scored four times. Sciarretta chipped in with two goals and two assists.
Monaghan paced Cortland with four goals, while Gentile helped the Red Dragons gain possession with 11 draw controls. Goalie Jaclyn Beshlian made 14 saves as Middlebury held a 43-32 advantage in shots, as well as a 26-18 edge in ground balls.