MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Senior co-captain midfielder Liz Bruno and sophomore Shea Kusiak combined for six goals and one assist to lead the Trinity Bantams to a 7-5 victory against Cortland in the national semifinals Saturday on Sprague Field at Montclair State.
Trinity, ranked No. 5 in the nation, improves to a program-best 20-1 and will face undefeated (22-0) Salisbury, which downed Middlebury 15-7, in Saturday’s other semifinal on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Montclair State.
The Bantams, appearing in the NCAA tournament for the eighth time and the third in a row, were playing in the first national semifinal, but had reached the quarterfinals six times before advancing to Saturday’s game with a 7-5 victory against Colby on Sunday.
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“It is so hard to win the regional round, that today we sort of felt like the pressure was off and the team could just go out and play,” Trinity Head Coach Kate Livesay said. “We love our team and we don’t put a lot of energy into who we are playing or who is talking about us, but our goal was to be here.”
The Bantams took the lead early and maintained it the whole way, as Bruno scored the game’s first goal 1:18 into the first half, followed by a goal by junior midfielder on a pass from behind the net by classmate Kaitlin Hildebrand at the 24:19 mark. Junior midfielder Maria Di Fato netted the first Red Dragon goal with 22:33 on the clock, before an 11:31 scoring drought for both teams ensued. Kusiak sidearmed a shot past Red Dragon junior backstop Shauna Hutchinson from the right wing to cap off a five-plus minute Trinity possession with 11:02 on the clock, and Bruno added an unassisted tally with 7:21 left in the first to give Trinity its biggest lead of the day at 4-1.
Cortland State senior attacker Erin Kollar scored man-up from rookie Marilyn Farrell with 17 seconds remaining before the break to slice the Bantam lead in half.
After more than 10 minutes of scoreless play, Di Fato broke the silence with her second goal of the game at the 19:33 mark of the second stanza. Bruno beat her defender up the middle and fired past Hutchinson for a Bantam goal 1:03 later, but Red Dragon senior midfielder Lindsay Abbott answered on a free-position shot to make the score, 5-4, with 17:25 remaining. Both defenses were stingy during the following 10-plus minutes that included an interception and a save on a close Cortland shot by Bantam junior goalie Olivia Whitney.
Bruno caused a Red Dragon turnover and scooped the ground ball with just a bit more than 10 minutes left in the contest, and went on to feed Kusiak on a key insurance goal later in the possession, as Kusiak streaked through the middle and scooped a shot under Hutchinson’s stick to give Trinity a 6-4 lead with 6:17 left.
Junior attacker Gina Campese brought Cortland back to within one at 6-5 at the 5:21 mark, but Leonhard controlled the draw and Trinity held the ball for nearly two minutes before Kusiak snuck through an aggressive Red Dragon defense and completed her hat trick with a shot into an empty net. Leonhard once again won the draw, but Di Fato caused a Bantam turnover to give Cortland State one last chance. Di Fato’s attempt was wide, however, and Trinity maintained possession the rest of the way.
Trinity held a slight edge on shots, 20-to-17, and picked up 19 ground balls to 14 for the Red Dragons. Kusiak and Bruno recorded a hat trick apiece, while Bruno added an assist, a game-high five ground balls, and a team-high four caused turnovers. Di Fato had one goal and one assist to go with four ground balls and a game-high seven caused turnovers, but committed seven fouls and received a late red card. Hutchinson and Whitney stopped five shots each, and the teams combined for 34 turnovers. The Bantam zone defense held Cortland to its lowest score of the season.