April 18, 2009

Courtesy of Navy

LEWISBURG, Pa. - Trailing 5-1 after the opening 25 minutes, the Navy women's lacrosse team (11-4, 4-2 PL) reeled off six unanswered goals and used a stifling defensive effort to hold host Bucknell (9-7, 4-2 PL) scoreless for a 28-minute, eight-second stretch spanning both halves en route to a hard-fought 8-7 victory on Saturday afternoon at Graham Field.

With the victory, the Midshipmen women have now qualified for the Patriot League Tournament for the second time in as many years. Navy will carry the third seed into next weekend's four-team playoff in Hamilton, N.Y., and play second-seeded Lehigh on Friday at a time to be determined. The other semifinal will pit regular season champion Colgate against fourth-seeded Bucknell.

"We are just so proud of the Navy women's lacrosse program to come up here on the road in the last regular season Patriot League game and leave with the victory," said Navy head coach Cindy Timchal. "Last year we really struggled on the road, especially during conference play, so that really make's today that much more gratifying.

"We got off to a slow start, but we kept believing in ourselves and really did well to fight our way back and come-from-behind to take this one. After all is said and done, we are back right where we wanted to be and that's in the league tournament."

Bucknell came out of the gates strong, outscoring Navy 5-1 over the game's first 21-plus minutes of action. After the Bison pulled ahead 2-0 early, junior Erin Rawlick (Forest Hill, Md.) extended her goal-scoring streak to 32 games at 25:39 to cut the deficit in half. The hosts then proceeded to record the next three tallies to take a four-goal advantage with 8:28 remaining in the period.

With the team mired in a 20-minute, 40-second scoreless stretch, Navy's gifted 5-foot-8 junior attacker proved why, for the second-straight season, she ranks amongst the nation's most prolific scorers.

Rawlick scored on an eight-meter attempt at 4:59 to halt the Bison run and then went on to complete the hat trick scoring off a rebound in the waning moments of the first half. The goal, her third of the day, brought Navy to within 5-3 with just six seconds left and seemed to give the squad a much-needed boost headed into the break.

"They were face-guarding Erin all day so she really had to work to get free and into space, said Timchal. "To get those goals in the first half, especially that one late, was just a terrific effort by her. I thought she really jump-started things for us today."

In the second half, the momentum from that late surge did indeed carry over, as junior Mary Ruttum (Annapolis, Md.) scored just 56 ticks into the period to ignite a run of four unanswered goals over an 8:04 span.

Ruttum, who tied a school record with six ground balls and forced a game-high three turnovers on the afternoon, added another score at 23:25 to tie things up at 5-5.

After drawing even only 23 seconds would come off the clock before Navy staked claim to its first lead of the day, as Ruttum forced a turnover and found talented rookie Kierstin King (Upperco, Md.) streaking to the net to put the Mids in front 6-5.

Fellow freshman Madison Bell (Baltimore, Md.) then added her 20th goal of the season at 21:56 to cap the 4-0 Navy surge.

"Mary was all over the field for us," said Timchal. "We saw her start to break out of a recent slump on Tuesday with a big game against Robert Morris and today she really brought it. She really came up huge."

Having spent most of the second half on its own end and without a score since the 8:28 mark of the opening period, the Bison finally broke through cutting the deficit to 7-6 on junior Carol Donahue's goal with 10:20 left to play.

Sophomore Caitlin Mandrin Hill (Annapolis, Md.) answered with a goal assisted by Ruttum with 5:31 remaining, but Donahue, the Bison's leading scorer who was kept quiet most of the afternoon, responded with a free-position tally 18 seconds later to again make it a one-goal game.

The two teams traded possessions in the closing minutes and after a late turnover thwarted the Mids' efforts to run out the clock, Bucknell had a golden opportunity to force overtime as Donahue was awarded an eight-meter attempt with just seven seconds remaining.

Fortunately for the Mids, freshman goalie Elaina Ponchione (Silver Spring, Md.) rose to the occasion, as she has time and time again throughout the spring, and made the biggest save of her young career, pushing the ball wide to the right and out of play.

Ponchione, who lowered her conference-leading GAA to 8.16 in the win, made five saves over the final 30 minutes and finished with a game-high nine on the afternoon.

"Our defense has been working hard all season. We knew coming in that we had to contain their key players in (Carol) Donahue and (Bonnie) Buechel and for the most part we did just that.

"To hold them scoreless over that long stretch was critical. At that time we were really struggling to find our way offensively, so that really helped keep us in it. Elaina again was terrific in the cage. That was a big-time save there late."

Navy will return home to host Howard University in its 2009 regular season finale on Monday afternoon at 4:00 pm.

Game Notes:
*Navy has won five of its last six games headed into its regular season finale on Monday versus Howard.

*The Mids are now 5-1 on the road this season, a year after winning just two of six games outside Annapolis.

*Navy finishes at 4-2 in league play for the second consecutive season.

* The two teams met last year, with Navy claiming an 18-11 victory over Bucknell in Annapolis. Last spring's win over the Bison clinched the program's first-ever league tournament berth.

* Rawlick continues to be on a tear as of late, with 21 goals and 25 points over her last five games. She ran her conference-best point total to 78 (46 g, 32 a) in the win.

* For the second-straight game, Navy played without the services of one of its leading scorers and top offensive catalysts in sophomore Katrina Nietsch, who is sidelined with a knee injury.