Panther skaters fall in NESCAC, will still host NCAA game Wednesday

AMHERST, Mass. — Top-seeded host Amherst blanked the No. 4 Middlebury College women’s hockey team, 2-0, in a NESCAC semifinal played on Friday, ending the Panthers’ quest for a repeat league title.

However, the 16-7-3 Panthers’ hopes for a second straight NCAA Division III championship remain alive, in part because the tournament expanded to 11 teams this winter.

Middlebury will host Suffolk (18-7-2) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in its first-round NCAA game; the teams did not meet this winter. A victory then would send the Panthers into a 3 p.m. Saturday quarterfinal at traditional rival Plattsburgh. The Cardinals edged the Panthers in overtime, 2-1, in Middlebury. The final four is set for March 17 and 19, with the place and times to be determined.

Amherst, which had swept two regular-season games from the Panthers, defeated Hamilton in Saturday’s final, 5-0, and advanced to the NCAA tournament with a 24-3 record. Hamilton and NESCAC No. 3 seed Colby also received first-round NCAA bids.

On this past Saturday, the Mammoths outshot the Panthers, 26-17, and held Middlebury off in the third period, when the Panthers put nine of their shots on net.

Amherst took the lead with 3:54 of the second period with a power-play goal. Kate Pohl scored on a one-timer from the right side following a cross-crease pass from Carley Daly.

Amherst made it 2-0 at 15:11 of the period when Marie-Eve Marleau redirected a pass into the upper right corner of the net.

The Panthers manufactured a good chance with 2:33 left, when Jenna Letterie worked behind the Mammoth defense, but Amherst goalie Natalie Stott (17 saves) gloved her bid.

Middlebury nearly cut the deficit in half at 13:05 of the third period, but Stott sprawled to save a shot from the slot by Sabrina Kim. Just 1:30 later, Stott got her pad on a Letterie’s point-blank bid at the right post.

The Panthers pulled goalie Sophia Merageas (24 saves) with 2:32 left for an extra skater, but the Mammoths and Stott held the fort.

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