DUDLEY, Mass. — A pair of goals in the first half and a number of huge defensive plays catapulted The College of New Jersey into the final of the NCAA tournament as the Lions held off Ursinus 2-0 on Saturday.
The win gives third-ranked TCNJ (23-2) a shot at its 11th national title as it will face Middlebury on Sunday. The Panthers moved into the title game with a 3-0 win against previously undefeated Bowdoin.
TCNJ and Middlebury have met three times with each of those coming in the NCAA tournament. The Panthers hold a 2-1 edge with the last meeting coming in 2007.
The Bears end their solid season at 19-4.
TCNJ scored early and its defensive unit was outstanding from start to finish as senior goalie Shannon Syciarz made a season-high 16 saves, while three other players came up with defensive saves.
“It’s really been a team effort throughout the entire season, but especially this postseason,” Syciarz said. “The forwards have been coming back and the girls that are back there are making goal-line saves game after game so it takes a lot of pressure of me.”
The Lions opened the scoring with one of the prettiest goals of the season as senior Leigh Mitchell touched the ball ahead to a charging Kathleen Notos deep inside the Ursinus circle. Notos dove forward to flick Mitchell’s offering past Ursinus goalie Jill Lukens 9:10 into the contest.
Ursinus nearly tied the game minutes later as Catherine Bitterly came up the near wing and got off a shot that Syciarz denied. The rebound, however, went right back to Bitterly’s stick and she directed a shot at TCNJ’s net that slid past Syciarz. In what has been a recurring theme throughout the NCAA tournament, freshman Lauren Pigott swooped in making the defensive save.
The save was her fourth of the tournament and the defender has recorded at least one in each of the team’s three tournament games.
A successful penalty corner lifted TCNJ’s lead to 2-0 as freshman Erin Waller laced a Camille Passucci insert past Lukens for her sixth goal of the season. That score came 3:55 before the half.
Both teams had chances in the opening stages of the fresh half as Notos had her stopped by a defensive save by Katie McEwen, while Syciarz swatted away Alyssa Thren’s high offering leaving the score at 2-0.
The Bears began pressing midway through the half and TCNJ’s defense once again weathered the storm. Syciarz made nice back-to-back saves on Thren, while Passucci came up with a defensive save.
TCNJ’s defense wasn’t done yet as Jessica Persicketti made one last defensive save with just over two minutes remaining to keep the shutout en tact.
Lukens finished with 12 saves for the Bears.