MIDDLEBURY — Despite taking a 6-0 first-half lead, the Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team walked off Kohn Field on Saturday with its NESCAC and its NCAA Division III hopes almost certainly gone, as No. 6 Colby rallied to stun the third-seeded Panthers in a NESCAC quarterfinal, 11-10.
Colby (9-5) advanced to face top-seeded Trinity this weekend, while the Panthers dropped to 11-5 with their fourth loss in six games and second in eight days to Colby. Their five losses have come by a total margin of eight goals.
And the recent losses have come with starters ailing, including sophomore middie Chrissy Ritter, who was still feeling the effects of an illness and sat out the end of Saturday’s first half on Saturday, when Colby mounted a 5-0 run. Sophomore attacker Bridget Instrum is also injured, and senior goalie Alyssa Palomba played but is nursing an injury.
Coach Missy Foote said the changing lineups have hurt the team’s continuity beyond just the lost contributions, especially in competitive NESCAC play.
“That mixes up the whole thing,” Foote said. “That’s been an issue.”
Still, the Panthers took charge early on Saturday. Their defense — Erin Benotti, who caused two Colby turnovers, Hannah Deoul and Maggie Caputi — held fast, and the offense began to put balls behind Colby first-half goalie Michelle Burt (four saves; Claire Dickson made three in the second half.).
Laurel Pascal (four goals, one assist) sandwiched two goals around a Katie Ritter solo move, and Middlebury led, 3-0, with 4:55 gone.
Colby stiffened on defense until 10:37, when the Panthers went on another 3-0 run in a span of 1:55. Ritter cut to goal and converted a feed from Megan Griffin, and Pascal scored twice, the second at 8:42.
Foote then decided to rest Chrissy Ritter, who played well but was coughing after the game.
“Getting Chrissy back did make a big difference,” Foote said. “I felt I couldn’t play her the whole game, so I took her out at the end of the first half. That was significant.”
Colby broke through at 7:00, when Sara Miller converted an Alex Mintz feed, and at 3:07 Sara Lux made it 6-2. At 2:23, Katharine Eddy tossed in a free position, and it was 6-3.
The Panthers won the draw and controlled at midfield before advancing into the Colby end, seeking the last shot of the half. A dropped pass gave the ball back to the Mules at 1:20, and at 0:37 Lindsey McKenna whipped in the first of her four goals.
The Panthers then again turned the ball over, allowing Eddy (two goals, four assists) to score in transition with two seconds to go to make it 6-5.
That momentum carried over to the second half, when Eddy set up McKenna’s tying goal at 29:01.
Foote credited Eddy and McKenna for taking charge.
“They were amazing, and we struggled to stop them,” she said.
The Panthers answered. After Palomba (six saves) made two stops, Mary O’Connell restored the lead by burying a behind-the-net feed from Megan Griffin at 23:50. McKenna tied the score with a strong crease roll at 22:40, but Ritter bounced a shot home at 19:14 and then set up the cutting Griffin at 17:41 to make it 9-7.
But the Panthers had trouble getting possession, and — like Colby on the wet, cold day — kept turning the ball over. Colby earned an 8-3 edge in second-half draws, and overall turnovers were 19 for the Mules, 18 for Middlebury.
“We had a couple of silly turnovers,” Foote said. “And then the draw in the second half couldn’t have been more crucial.”
Colby scored the next four goals: A Miller free position at 14:27, a Katie Griffin transition score set up by Miller, and then two bullets into the upper left corner by Abby Hooper, both assisted by Eddy. The final goal came at 2:18 with Colby stalling with a one-goal lead and the Panthers desperately chasing the ball.
Middlebury won a draw after that, and Liza Herzog scored at 1:59 to make it 11-10. Colby controlled the next draw and tried running out the clock, but Herzog, a midfielder, picked off a pass to trigger one last chance.
But her shot, launched in the final seconds while colliding with a defender, bounced wide left, and the Panthers’ season came to a close — as did the careers of Herzog, Palomba, Deoul and Benotti, all seniors.
“Lacrosse is a game of momentum,” Foote said. “We had the great momentum in the beginning, and they got the momentum going.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.