BLOOMSBURG, Pa. – In three days, Merrimack back Sarah Sparks was tasked with shutting down two of the best scorers in the country: Stonehill’s Erika Kelly and East Stroudsburg’s Ally Roth.
“I think it’s awesome. I think we … work together and when were faced with the challenge we accept it,” Sparks said. “Every single one of us. Doesn’t matter if it’s the starting forward or last one on the bench. We’ll accept the challenge and do our best to win.”
Sparks was successful for more than 140 minutes of play until an unfortunate break in the early part of the overtime period in Sunday’s national championship game against East Stroudsburg.
Roth got the ball with open space at the top of the circle where she was met by Sparks. The two battled but Roth began to pry herself from Sparks, leaving the Merrimack defender with very few options.
Sparks threw her body at Roth and got her to the ground ending that scoring threat, but creating an opportunity for the game’s first and only goal on a penalty stroke.
“[Sparks] made a big play today, let’s be honest,” Merrimack head coach Anne Rounce said. “Ally Roth was going to do like a turnaround chip shot and then score in the top right corner instead of the bottom left on a penalty stroke.”
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East Stroudsburg won the game and national title 1-0 after Roth slammed home the penalty stroke in the overtime period. For Roth and ESU head coach Sandy Miller, the excitement of winning the championship was outshined by the matter in which the game was decided.
“Unbelievable,” Miller said sitting next to Roth at the post-game press conference. “We had a lot of confidence in this young lady. ... We were stressed but it’s awesome, it’s a great national championship. We are very excited.”
Miller’s unwavering confidence and Rounce’s support of Sparks’ decision to take the penalty in that part of the game speak to the scoring prowess of the senior Roth, who finishes her career with 75 goals.
After the trip occurred, Roth was on the ground, unaware of the call on the field. But once she found out from her teammates that she would get the opportunity for a penalty stroke, she knew it was her chance to hammer home the national title for ESU.
“I didn’t know if it was a corner or a stroke,” Roth said. “When they told me it was a stroke I was like, ‘wow, I’m going to end this game right now.’ I knew that I could put it away.”
It was the second time in her career that Roth ended a game on a penalty stroke in overtime and it brought East Stroudsburg its first national championship for field hockey.
The title was the first as a coach for Miller who won two national titles as a player for Lock Haven in the 80s.