MC
Hench

GRANTHAM, Pa. -- Messiah senior forward Erin Hench scored three goals as the Falcons battled their way to a 3-1 win against Amherst in an NCAA quarterfinal on Sunday. The win secured Messiah's place in the national semifinals for the eighth consecutive year.

The final three goals of the game -- two by Messiah and one by Amherst, were all scored in the contest's final 10 minutes.

In the end, the Falcons' win punched their tickets to San Antonio, for the NCAA semifinal game to be played on Dec. 2.

"For this group [of players] to continue, it's exciting," Messiah head coach Scott Frey said. "They really battled today, they earned it. I thought we won the physcial battle, and we took a few licks, too. Our discipline with the ball carried us."

In the 11th minute of play, senior Liz Phillips found herself on a run up the left side of the field, taking possession and cutting into the box for a shot from 15 yards out on senior keeper Allie Horwitz. Horwitz, who collected five saves on the day, punched the rising strike over the crossbar to protect the net. The resulting corner kick for the Falcons traveled through the box untouched before being cleared by the Amherst defense.

Missing out on the game's first score, the Falcons would make up for it four minutes later. With Amherst attacking through the midfield, Phillips secured possession to clear the ball over the middle of the field to Hench. Hench took control of the high bounce and found herself in a race to the net. With the Lord Jeffs' defense closing in from behind, Hench crossed over the 18-yard line before slotting her shot to the bottom right corner of the goal to give her team a 1-0 lead.

The Lord Jeffs attempted eight shots in the first half- the most the Falcons have allowed all season through a game's first 45:00.

Three minutes into the second half, the Falcons almost found their second goal. Senior Corinne Wulf attacked up the midfield through the Lord Jeffs' defense before placing a ball through to classmate Jess Shirk on the left side. Shirk took two touches on the ball before rocketing a shot towards the top left corner, only to see it sail just high of the crossbar.

With both teams exchanging physical play across the field, the Falcons continued to try and advance their lead. In the 58th minute, Shirk cut inside the defense along the left end line, firing a cross to the right side of the box to the feet of Wulf. The senior took possession, cut one touch to the right and fired a shot from 10 yards out on Horwitz. The Amherst keeper first bobbled the shot before gathering possesion to hold the score.

With less than 10 minutes remaining, Amherst pushed its team forward in their attack, leaving themselves vulnerable to a long clear by the Messiah defense. Junior Anne Trapp rocketed the ball forward to the left side of the field for Hench, who found herself with plenty of space down the sideline. Pushing the ball forward, junior defender Sandy Shepherd began to close in from the middle of the field. Hench adeptly cut the ball behind Shepherd toward the middle of the field, now finding herself advancing into the box and toward Horwitz. A strong strike past the keeper set off a loud celebration by the Messiah faithful.

Undeterred, Amherst continued to attack. In the 86th minute, they would cut the lead in half off a goal by McKenzie. The forward took a lofted pass forward to about 20 yards out, chipping it over keeper Autumn Reilly to the left side of the goal.

With the security of a two-goal lead gone, Messiah would get another emotional boost from Hench. Just 90 seconds after the Lord Jeffs notched their first goal, Messiah junior Alex Brandt found Wulf just 20 yards out from the goal in the Falcons' attacking third. Wulf slotted the ball to her right to Hench as she cut through the box. The senior, and former National Player of the Year, struck her shot low and to the far post of the goal. The ball, traveling just out of the reach of Horwitz, hit the left post before turning into the net for the score.

"Corinne slotted me a a nice ball, and I wasn't sure I got a good first touch," said Hench, who collected her second hat-trick in the NCAA tournament this season. "But I was able to control it, and hit it just inside the opposite post. It was a touch angle, and I'm glad it went in."

With the loss, Amherst's season come to an end with a final record of 20-1.

"I'm really proud of this team," head coach Jen Hughes said. "They're a phenomenal group of student-athletes -- some of the best I've ever had the privilege to work with."

"We came out and gave it our best shot," she added. "Messiah was the better team today."