Normally 11 saves and a second-half shutout are both signs of a rout for the No. 4 ranked Lions. But the Messiah College Falcons aren’t a normal opponent. Despite one of the strongest defensive efforts of the season, the Lions fell 2-1 to the No. 1 Messiah Falcons on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Lions Stadium, which dropped their record to 3-1.
This could’ve been a statement win for the Lions, matched up with the defending national champions and current National Field Hockey Coaches Association ranked leaders. But the Falcons’ unforgiving attack — which included 17 total shots, and 13 on goal — chipped the Lions down early and often.
“We like to look at every game with equal importance but I think we’re all really hyped up for this game in particular,” said senior goalkeeper Christina Fabiano two days before the game. “Given the season they had last year, we’re really excited to show that we can compete with the best.”
The Falcons opened up the game with a few strong possessions. After several turnovers, the Falcons scored at the 12:27 mark on a loose ball shot from senior forward Taylor Holt.
The Lions answered back with a few promising possessions, but they couldn’t convert. With just under 11 minutes left in the half, a turnover in front of the goal netted junior forward Kezia Loht a score of her own and extended the Falcons lead to 2-0.
After the score, Lions coach Sharon Pfluger called a timeout. Pfluger, who leads all NCAA Division III field hockey coaches in active wins and winning percentage, didn’t want Messiah to run away with the momentum, and stopped the clock for a quick pep talk.
“Coach has been in this position time and time again, so she’s as prepared as a coach can possibly be,” Fabiano said. “It’s a great experience playing for someone who knows the magnitude of the game, but also wants us to play relaxed and have fun.”
Whatever Pfluger said must’ve worked, because the Lions fought right back and immediately kept each play inside Falcons territory. Less than three minutes after the timeout, sophomore forward/midfielder Kayla Peterson scored on a penalty corner to give the Lions some life and cut the deficit to one score.
With a renewed sense of energy, the Lions continued to push the Falcons back. They took a shot and attempted a penalty corner, before the clocked ticked down. At the end of the period, the Lions got another penalty corner attempt, which led into another penalty corner. Unfortunately for the Lions, neither netted a score and the half ended with the Falcons on top, 2-1.
The Lions defense was a major force in the second half. Senior goalkeeper Christina Fabiano dipped and dove her way to eight saves in the second half alone, for a career-high of 10 total saves in the game.
The offense couldn’t do much against the equally potent Falcons defense, which broke up several scoring opportunities and kept the majority of possession time in favor of the Falcons. The Lions squandered the few opportunities they had. They sent a few shots too wide late in the game, and were forced off the ball in a crucial breakaway opportunity.
Once again, the Lions found themselves in a penalty corner situation with seconds remaining. The Lions passed the ball around, but their shot was blocked and the Falcons ran out the clock and secured the win.
Players and coaches did not stick around for post-game interviews. After an emotional meeting at midfield, the Lions packed up, marched straight out the away entrance and headed home to reflect on the heartbreaking loss.
Despite the loss, the Lions gave Messiah one of its closest matchups in a year. The offense will have 12 more regular season matchups to grind for a possible appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
With Messiah out of the picture for now, the Lions will focus on winning another New Jersey Athletic Conference title. While they’re the favorites in the NJAC, the Lions must still play out each
game in the coming weeks.
The field hockey team returns to Lions Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, against Gwynedd Mercy University. Then on Saturday, Sept. 23, team will play Salisbury University at Lions Stadium at 6 p.m.
By shutting Messiah out in the second half, the Lions proved they can roll with the best team in the nation. They know they were a few missed shots and a turnover or two away from a monumental upset. Even with a loss, what the Lions learned against Messiah should be critical to their success this upcoming fall.