MIDDLEBURY — In a duel of nationally ranked NCAA Division III field hockey teams, host Middlebury College came to life in the last 15 minutes of Tuesday’s game against Skidmore to win, 3-1.
The 7-2 Thoroughbreds had the Panthers on their heels and locked in their own end for most of the second half, and goalie Becca Shaw and defender Lucy Jackson each made big saves to preserve a 1-1 deadlock.
But suddenly the ball went the other way. The Middlebury pressure paid off with two goals in a span of 2:17, and the No. 15 Panthers (3-2) had defeated No. 10 Skidmore for their second big win in four days: On Saturday they defeated defending NESCAC and NCAA champion Bowdoin for the first time in six years, 2-0, in Maine.
Senior midfielder Mullery Doar said the Panthers won’t rest on their laurels with NESCAC foes Colby and Wesleyan set to visit this weekend. But she acknowledged they now feel good after disappointing early setbacks to Tufts and Trinity.
“Once we make it through this stretch, we’ll know for sure, but it feels great to beat Bowdoin. It’s been six years now, so I think we’re ready to go,” Doar said. “It’s been a slow start, but everything is coming together.”
Panther coach Katharine DeLorenzo credited Skidmore for dictating play for most of the game, and she praised the work of Middlebury defenders Madison Kahn, Jackson and second-half substitute Margaret Souther and especially Shaw for holding off the Thoroughbreds, who came in having scored 38 goals in eight games.
“We had a really slow start, 45 minutes worth. I also thought Skidmore was terrific,” she said. “I was surprised they didn’t find the ability to finish a couple of those, but I also thought Becca Shaw had ... a fantastic game.”
The Panthers — who were without leading returning scorer Chase Delano, who was hurt against Bowdoin — had the first half’s only goal, with 2:36 to go. Allison Grant found Sally Ryan alone on the right side, and Ryan served across to Lauren Green for a tip-in to the far corner.
Both teams had other first-half chances, as Skidmore goalie Liz Catinella stopped a couple of drives on penalty corners, and Shaw recorded three saves as the Thoroughbreds had more shots on goal.
Then the Thoroughbreds took charge in the first 20 minutes of the second half. The Panthers defended well, but Skidmore ratcheted up the midfield pressure and bottled up Middlebury in its own end.
The tying goal came with 30:32 to go on a penalty corner. Shaw stopped Annie Rosencrans at the left post, but the ball bounced to Jackie Slocombe, who tucked it inside the right post.
At the 24-minute mark, Jackson raced behind Shaw to bat a ball wide left for a defensive save, and soon afterward Shaw stoned Rosencrans again. Kahn, Souther and Dana Heritage also made key defensive plays.
At the 15-minute mark, freshman wing Charlotte Gardiner re-entered and made a quick impact, carrying down the right side and setting up Ryan for a point-blank shot that Catinella stopped. Suddenly, the momentum shifted.
DeLorenzo said she made a tactical change, switching middie Emily Blair to the right and Doar to the left. Blair worked well with Gardiner on the right side, and Doar’s efforts on the left helped produce the go-ahead goal.
Doar picked off a Skidmore clearance on the sideline and fed Greer to the left of the Skidmore goal. Greer fired across to an unmarked Gardiner on the far post, and she collected, spun and fired home her first career score.
At 6:54, the Panthers made it 3-1. Gardiner carried down the right side and fed Ryan outside the circle. Ryan relayed to Greer, who ripped a 25-foot one-timer inside the far post.
Doar said more than tactics went into the Panthers’ surge.
“We just kind of clicked. We were a little slow and kind of on our heels in the first half and the first half of the second half. And once we made a couple of good runs, we just fueled off that. And that second goal was pretty. We liked it,” she said. “And our defense was playing well. Our goalie had some key saves that kind of fueled us, and Lucy had a key save that was going to be a goal. So I think we kind of just went off of what we had and finally put it all together.”
In all, DeLorenzo had few complaints after the two wins, although she wouldn’t mind seeing the Panthers spark a little earlier.
“They’re getting more and more competitive. It does seem as though they’re still a little bit in the mode where they need something to light a fire before that happens,” she said. “They’re talented enough to finish. They’re talented enough to make good defensive plays. But getting to the ball first and little edgy things like that, and really being a fighter from the start, I think is going to be really important down the road for them.”