Nov. 15, 2010

Courtesy of Eastern Connecticut State University

MANSFIELD, Conn. - Ten days after being eliminated from the Little East Conference tournament on penalty kicks, the Eastern Connecticut State University women's soccer team advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Division III tournament by eliminating Wheaton College (MA) on PKs, 4-2, Sunday afternoon.

After top-seeded Eastern (16-0-5) and second-seeded Wheaton (17-4-3) played 110 scoreless minutes, the Warriors converted all four of their penalty kicks. Wheaton made two, but Eastern junior keeper Theresa Pagnozzi (Waterford) saved two to propel the Warriors to next weekend's sectional tournament. The match is officially recorded as a 0-0 overtime tie.

Eastern will face Williams College in one sectional semifinal, while Williams= Smith College will face SUNY College at Oneonta. Sunday, Williams routed host Brandeis University, 6-0, to win the other regional tournament staged in New England, while host Williams Smith eliminated the University of Scranton. On Saturday, Oneonta blanked visiting University of Rochester, 2-0 to capture its regional championship.

The sectional tournament will be played either Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday. The exact days and host will be announced Monday.

In last Thursday's Little East Conference semifinals at home, the top-seeded Warriors and fourth-seeded UMass Boston had played to a 1-1 overtime tie, but Eastern missed three of four penalty kicks and were eliminated, 3-1hickey72_3049.jpg

Sunday, Eastern sophomore Daniela Marchitto (Orange) converted the first PK, and after Wheaton tied it, freshman Nicole Leonard (Rutherford, NJ) gave the Warriors the lead for good. Junior Jo-Ann Merheb (Bethel) and sophomore Taylor Buchanan (Ellington) also converted for Eastern to keep the Warriors in front throughout the session.

Pagnozzi made five saves during the match to improve to 13-0-4 this season, 14-0-4 lifetime. Like Pagnozzi, Wheaton junior keeper Erin Cawley made serveral impressive saves in regulation and overtime to keep the match tied. However, senior Emily Hough was inserted for Cawley for the PK competition. Hough was unable to stop any of Eastern's four shots, though, with Marchitto drilling her low shot inside the right post to get things off to a positive start, Leonard and Merheb sending their shots low inside the left post, and Buchanan going upper-right. With a chance to give Eastern a 2-1 PK lead against UMass Boston, Buchanan's shot was saved by Beacon keeper Katie Coscia and Merheb's bid to tie the PK session against UMass clanged off the crossbar.

Eastern played the NCAA regional without senior back Megan Godwin (Manchester), then suffered another blow against Wheaton when first-year sophomore forward Chelsea Downer (Colchester) left the match 26 seconds into the second half with what could prove to be a season-ending knee injury. Junior Laura Violette (Wallingford), who had replaced Godwin in the starting lineup this weekend, also was knocked out of the game five minutes into play when she drew blood after being hit in the face, Violette did return with 15 minutes left in the half.

Pagnozzi came up with at least four strong moves in the fsecond half to prevent Wheaton from breaking the tie, and the Warriors began asserting themselves later in regulation and throughout the 20-minute, sudden-death overtime.

Pagnozzi came aggressively off her line twice in a span of two minutes to thwart Wheaton scoring chances before they could materialize, and soon after sprawled to her right to make her only two saves of the half in robbing Hough, and eight minutes later, Nicole Sherman

Cawley, one of three keepers to see significant time between the pipes this year for Wheaton, also came up huge in the game. Four minutes into the match, she stoned Jo-Ann Merheb on a prime Eastern bid to strike early (Buchanan followed by sending the rebound over the cross bar), and later got some help from senior back Alessia Viscomi, who took senior midfielder Megan Pavia's (Stamford) header in the chest while guarding the goal line when Cawley was out of position.

While both teams had scoring chances, the finest came with time running out in the first overtime and nearly provided Eastern with the "golden goal". With the clock winding inside ten seconds, Buchanan headed the ball to the foot of Marchitto, who slid a pass on the right side to Leonard. Cutting in from the end line, Leonard was set to tuck the game-ending shot inside the right post with two seconds left, but Cawley left her feet to smother the shot at the post as time ran out..

For the 20th time in 21 matches, Eastern has allowed one or no goals, with the shutout giving the Warriors' ten his season (one shy of the program record). Pagnozzi also tied the program record with her seventh full shutout of the year, set eight years ago by Stacey Schofield. Four of the shutouts have come in the last seven matches. Senior defenders Lauren Hickey (Southwick, MA) and Amber Petrizzo (Plainville), sophomore Rachel Cutler (Guilford) and freshman Tamar Merheb (Bethel) never came off the field against Wheaton. A starting midfielder, Tamar Merheb moved to the backfield due to Godwin's absence. The defense allowed only 11 shots Sunday, with six of them coming in the first half.

The Warriors played only three substitutes but got quality minutes from Leonard, Downer and Pavia off the bench.Five Eastern position players logged all 110 minutes, while seven of ten position players for Wheaton were on the field for all 110 minutes.

Eastern had beaten Worcester State, 1-0, for its first NCAA win Saturday and Wheaton had eliminated Mitchell College, 4-0. Eastern and Wheaton had played four times previously, with all of those contests being decided by one goal, two in overtime. The perenniel post-season tournament qualifying Lyons had won three of the four..