As head coach Sharon Pfluger addressed the College’s lacrosse team at halftime of their quarterfinal matchup with No. 2-ranked SUNY-Cortland, she had momentum on her side. The No. 4-ranked Lions had just dug themselves out of an early 5-1 hole to end the first period only down 7-6, but Pfluger could not anticipate what happened next.
The second half began and the chance to gain control of the game lay in both squads’ hands, yet for a time it seemed that neither would take advantage of it. The first score of the second half did not become a reality until after what seemed to be a never-ending 20:36 minutes ticked away and the Red Dragons took an 8-6 lead, which eventually became a 9-7 Cortland victory on Sunday, May 13.
“The second half was like a stalemate the whole time and then they scored to go up two,” Pfluger said. “You can’t have too many mistakes in a row in a tight game because you’re not going to get your opportunities back. We didn’t play some situations as smart as we should have and I think we could have shot better.”
After taking the field again for what ended up being the last 30 minutes of their season, the Lions kept the pendulum of momentum swinging their way as senior midfielder Kathleen Notos grabbed the opening draw control.
The Lions seemed to have a picture-perfect pass from senior midfielder Leigh Mitchell to junior attacker Alex Spark — a combination that produced 26 goals this season — but Cortland goalkeeper Shauna Hutchinson made the save.
During the 20:36-minute stretch, the Lions would have two more strong opportunities to score, but neither could find the back of the net: one hit off the post and the other sailed wide.
“It’s great to have a strong first half, but it needs to finish and carry over to the second half,” said sophomore attacker Jen Garavente, who recorded three goals and an assist in the opening half. “We didn’t play the full 60 minutes.”
Meanwhile, the Lions held their ground every bit as much as the Red Dragons did defensively with sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Zinck leading the group with four of her eight saves coming in that span.
“Kelsey was tremendous and this was her first postseason experience; Kelsey’s a good goalie,” Pluger said. “There was a save that Kelsey made that made me say, ‘That was awesome.’ It was nice and steady, so I think she did her job. I don’t think she should be upset with herself. Maybe upset with the outcome, but not with herself.”
Things became progressively harder for the Lions after the Red Dragons drove down and made it a 9-6 ball game a few minutes later. After that score, the Red Dragons began to play pitch and catch as they looked to run out the clock.
The Lions weren’t dead just yet though as Notos forced a turnover, Mitchell scooped up the ground ball and then Notos capped the sequence off with her second goal of the game, setting the contest at 9-7.
Notos won the ensuing draw control, but the Lions hopes were slashed when their next shot attempt ended up in the back of Hutchinson’s stick instead of the back of the net. The Red Dragons were able to hold possession for the last four minutes after that misfire and walk away with the win.
“We didn’t have many shots (in the second half) and if we did they weren’t smart shots,” Pfluger said. “Not to say (Hutchinson) isn’t a good goalie, but there are ways to beat her and we know that.”
As disappointing as the second half was for the Lions, it would not even have been noteworthy without the Lions battling back from down 5-1 in the first half.
Garavente keyed the Lions attack as they climbed back into the game, scoring three goals — two coming after yellow cards issued to the Red Dragons – and assisting Mitchell’s only goal of the contest. Junior attacker Trenna Hill also tallied a score on a free-position opportunity.
In the end though, the Lions were not able to repeat the comeback they made the day before against Amherst College, turning a solemn 7-4 into an awe-inspiring 8-7 — an experience that made the loss even harder to take, according to Zinck.
“It was definitely tough,” Zinck said. “It was physically exhausting, mentally exhausting and emotionally exhausting, especially after playing yesterday in such a tight game.”
Another tidbit that added to the emotion was that Notos, Mitchell and senior attacker Sara Keating graduate another class of Lions who were unable to win a National Championship in lacrosse — the College’s last title came in 2006.
“Honestly, they’re the only thing that races through my mind right now,” Garavente said after the game. “The reason why you want to do it is so your seniors graduate on a great note. You want to do it for the team, but your biggest motivation is to win it for your seniors because they’ve taught us so much. None of us would be half the players we are without them, so that’s your biggest motivator. You love them to death and that’s honestly the first and only thing that raced through my mind when we lost.”
Although she would have liked to see a different outcome, Pfluger expressed that her team should be proud of all that they accomplished in 2012.
“It seems really sad, but in the big picture it’s a great thing that they care so much and that we all care so much about each other,” Pfluger said. “It’s not just about winning. It’s about being around each other every day and helping each other out. I’m proud of them. I’m just upset we didn’t finish strong.”