By George Tatoris
It was a dead heat. With ten minutes remaining, the No. 7-ranked Lions field hockey team and the No. 16-ranked Kean University Cougars were tied at 2. For the past 70 minutes, whenever the Lions scored, the Cougars followed up. To add to the tension, the winner clinches the top seed in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament.
Kean nearly pulled ahead in the final minutes, but the shot shuddered off the Lions goal post. It was a close call.
The Lions now had less than three minutes to put another tally on the board. Junior forward Elizabeth Morrison got the ball with seconds remaining and sent it sailing toward the Cougars net, only for Kean goalkeeper Erin Smith to turn it into a save.
The game went into overtime.
The Lions and the Cougars dragged it out as both sides failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities. Senior defender Lexi Smith made a defensive save in the first 30 seconds of play and Kean’s next shot went wide right. The Lions had a few penalty corners themselves, but Erin Smith had put up a wall.
With less than a minute remaining in the overtime period, junior defender Jackie Schwartz made a long pass to Morrison, who carried it all the way to the goal. Suddenly, it seemed the stadium was experiencing a case of déjà vu.
Morrison had the ball, Erin Smith was in the goal, and the clock was winding down, but this time, Erin Smith was not able to make the save. The Lions won, 3-2.
Combined with a 6-1 victory against NJAC rival Stockton University on Tuesday, Oct. 18, the win against Kean left the Lions undefeated in NJAC play.
“These two wins have earned us the number one spot in the NJAC Playoff Tournament, which we are very excited about and proud of,” sophomore forward Jordan Paton said.
Paton contributed in two NJAC games with two assists against conference rivals Ramapo College and Stockton University.
Kean would have been undefeated in the NJAC, but had just suffered its first loss of the season on Wednesday, Oct. 19. The Lions, meanwhile, were riding a seven-game win streak in spite of a rocky September.
“The month of October has been an extremely different ride compared to the earlier part of our season,” Paton said. “The entire team is in tune with each other on and off the field, and we continue to grow each day as a unit.”
The Cougars were hungry for redemption, and the Lions were keen to add Kean to their list of beaten teams, which had become extensive in the past three weeks.
Before assisting Morrison’s winning goal, Schwartz opened the scoring less than 10 minutes in on a penalty corner. She turned a pass from Lexi Smith into the College’s first goal.
By the end of the first half, the Cougars answered with a goal of their own, taking advantage of a penalty corner for the first equalizer.
Lions fought back in the second half. On a corner play, Morrison fired a shot at the Cougars goal, only for Erin Smith to make a save. In almost fortuitous fashion, Morrison ultimately got the best of the Cougars goalkeeper — just as she would for the winning goal — and knocked her own rebound into the net, putting the Lions ahead, 2-1.
The Lions defense kept the Cougars scoreless for the next 20 minutes. Throughout the game, junior goalkeeper Christina Fabiano accrued four saves, Smith made three defensive saves and senior defender Shannon Cowles made one.
Kean forward Rachel Mills managed to slip past the defenders and tied it up again at the 62nd minute, firing a rebounded shot into the net for the Cougars second goal of the day. Morrison would be the one to finally end the back and forth.
Morrison also played a key part in the Stockton game. She scored a hat trick that elevated the team to its 6-1 victory, and her first goal happened less than 10 minutes into the first half. She charged up the left side of the field and rocketed a shot into the Ospreys net that shook wood.
The Lions were kept from scoring throughout the first half as Stockton goalkeeper Emily Sorochynskyj cumulated six saves.
The single corner play the Ospreys had during this time was made fruitless by a defensive save from Smith.
Finally, at just under the 30th minute, senior forward/midfielder Danielle Andreula contributed the second Lions goal.
Senior forward/midfielder Jaclyn Douglas opened scoring in the second half by launching a shot from the right side to make it a 3-0 game. Douglas started a corner play three minutes later that added yet another tally. Douglas passed to sophomore forward Taylor Barrett, who passed to Morrison for her second goal of the game.
Morrison returned the favor not long after, sending a long pass to Douglas for her second goal of the game. Morrison pulled off the hat trick on a corner play initiated by Smith. Paton was the messenger this time, sending the ball to Morrison for the goal. Paton was contented to play a part in the goal.
“Our team did a fantastic job on capitalizing on the scoring opportunities during the Stockton game,” Paton said. “Each goal and assist was well deserved and I am extremely happy to have contributed to our win.”
In all this time, Stockton never gave up. With 10 seconds on the clock, Osprey Emily McNeill scored during a scramble in front of the net and spoiled the shutout.
The Lions have a 12-3 record after this week’s wins. As the postseason draws nearer, Paton has faith in herself and in her team.
“I am confident that our intensity will remain constant as we enter the end of the regular season,” Paton said.