Panthers’ stunning rally tops Colby in women’s lax

MIDDLEBURY — In Sunday’s almost painfully tense second-round NCAA Division III lacrosse game at Middlebury College, Colby scored five goals to the Panthers’ one in the first 6:41 of the second half to take an 8-5 lead.
In the past few weeks, the 15-4 Panthers had lost two starters, sophomore midfielder Henley Hall and junior attacker Georgia Carroll, and valuable freshman reserve Emily Barnard to injury. Before the season even started, another freshman tore a knee ligament.
And just before Sunday’s halftime, junior midfielder Hollis Perticone — the NESCAC Player of the Year, the team leader with 73 draw controls, third-leading scorer and a key member of its defense — received her second yellow card on a call that looked questionable. Perticone had to sit the rest of the game.
Oh, and Colby (15-4) had twice this season rallied late past the Panthers to defeat them, including eight days before on the same field.
Nevertheless, Middlebury won.
The Panther defense of seniors Delaina Smith and Jessie Yorke, junior Evie Keating and sophomore Alex White kept not only stopping the Mules, but also taking the ball from them.
Sophomore Casey O’Neill (of Burlington High School) started winning draws, and two of sophomore middie Emma McDonagh’s four goals came with 19:44 and 18:40 to go, one on a free position and one on a behind-the-net feed from senior leading scorer Mary O’Connell, and it was 8-7.
With 13 minutes to go, freshman Emma Johns, filling in for Perticone, caused a turnover. A minute later, Johns knotted the score, taking a cross-crease pass from classmate Sara DiCenso and beating Colby goalie Izzy Scribano inside the left post.
At 6:38, Colby — which also excelled defensively and caused turnovers — cashed in after a Panther miscue, with Lexie Perticone (yes, she’s Hollis’s sister) setting up Gemma Bready in transition to make it 9-8 Mules.
Three times in the next three minutes, Colby gained possession, but Panther sophomore middie Susanna Baker and Keating forced turnovers, and Smith won a race for a ground ball when a Colby clearing attempt sailed high.
Middlebury Coach Kate Livesay called time at 3:45 after Smith’s scoop, and soon after O’Connell ran across the top of the fan and bounced a rocket past Scribano at 3:02. It was 9-9.
   PANTHER JUNIOR HOLLIS Perticone fires a shot during NCAA second-round action against Colby Sunday afternoon on Kohn Field.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Colby got the ball back, but defense by Keating returned it to Middlebury. With about a minute to go McDonagh broke across the crease and tried to scoop the ball in, but Scribano smothered the shot and cleared up the right side. McDonagh chased the play down and checked the ball out of a Mule stick. The Panthers were back in business.
And they made the most of the chance. O’Connell possessed to the right of goal, and sophomore Jenna McNicholas saw a rare opening and cut to the crease. O’Connell hit her, and McNicholas finished high into the left side with 21.7 seconds to go: 10-9, the same score Colby had won by eight days before.
“We as a group wanted to wind down the clock as much as possible,” O’Connell said. “So it was really sweet to be able to find that open person with 20 seconds left.”
McNicholas said she saw O’Connell looking at the opening.
“Me and Mary work really well together,” McNicholas said. “I just cut for her and she put it right in my stick.”
O’Neill then flipped the draw high into the air, back toward the Panther end. Fittingly, Keating, who had caused four turnovers and picked up four ground balls, won the ball to erase Colby’s final hope.
O’Connell said the Panther always believed they would prevail.
“We had no doubt in our mind,” she said. “Lacrosse, you can score from one end to the other in 10 seconds, and so with 25 minutes left we knew we had the time to get the job done.”
Part of that faith, O’Connell said, came from the Panthers’ confidence in their back line and goalie Kate Furber, yet another sophomore starter, who on Sunday made six saves.
“There was no doubt in my mind with the ball down there, with the Colby team working our defense, that we were going to be able to get the ball back, get the ball swiftly down the field,” O’Connell said. “Kudos to the defense for being the backbone of our team all season and for being able to get us the ball back at the end of the game.”
McDonagh added a couple other factors. The Panthers hoped to give the team’s seniors (attacker Bea Eppler is the fourth) a victory on their last appearance on Kohn Field, and had other intangibles in their favor.
“We worked hard all week and figured things out. We knew we could do it,” McDonagh said. “We just had to clean up some passing and play with heart.”’
After Sunday’s win, Livesay — who coached Trinity to an NCAA title before doing the same at Middlebury in 2016 —added a couple more attributes to the Panthers’ list.
“We have a deep team, and we had to dip into the depth of the team this year. And we had to do that again today with Hollis being out,” Livesay said. “They are just a committed group, and just gritty, definitely the grittiest team I have ever coached.”
The grit showed in the stats. In the previous two games between the teams, Colby had the total edge in draws (20-18) and ground balls (29-22). On Sunday, the Panthers held the advantage in draws, 13-8, and Colby’s edge in rollers was 17-15.
“We knew we had to even the ground balls and even the draw controls, and I think we did a great job,” Livesay said.
With both defenses and goalies playing well (Scribano made 10 saves), the Panthers and Mules took turns scoring in the first half. Eppler had two goals, from O’Connell and DiCenso, and McDonagh netted two free positions, as Middlebury took the 4-3 lead.
Four Mules scored as Colby exploded out of the blocks after halftime, including two by Kendall Smith, who led Colby with three goals. Only O’Connell was answering as Middlebury fell behind, 8-5.
But the Panthers answered that 5-1 Mule run with the more timely one of their own, and they advanced to an NCAA Regional round at The College of New Jersey on this Saturday and Sunday. Middlebury meets Brockport (16-2) at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, while TCNJ (16-1, with the one loss at home to Middlebury, 6-4) faces Mount Union (14-3) at 11:30 a.m. The winners square off at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The Panthers do have one common foe with Brockport: Both won at St. Lawrence, Brockport by 6-5, and Middlebury by 13-7. Livesay said she believes the Panthers can again do well against TCNJ, assuming they get past Brockport on Saturday.
“They’re super speedy, really athletic, in between the 30s. We had trouble even getting to our offensive end the first time we played them in the first half. So we’ve got to be more poised in transition and make that a good phase of the game for us. Offensively we feel like we can score on them,” Livesay said. “Defensively, we did a nice job on them, so we just have to limit their go-to scorers.”
McDonagh said the Colby victory will also give the Panthers a shot in the arm this weekend.
“This will be a huge momentum boost for us,” she said. “We’re still just taking it one game at a time, but we’re really excited to see what we can do.”

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