YORK, Pa. -- Midway through the second half of Saturday's NCAA Division III tournament second-round game, it looked like St. John Fisher was going to advance to the next round of the tournament. The Cardinals had just finished a three-goal spurt that gave them a 12-8 lead against York (Pa.).
However, the Spartans got huge plays from a pair of senior captains down the stretch as the Green and White earned a come-from-behind 13-12 win against the Cardinals to advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
York improves to 15-4 overall while the Cardinals see their outstanding season come to an end at 15-5.
The Spartan comeback started with 13:48 left in regulation as Brittany Noell converted a free position shot to halt a three-goal Cardinal run and draw York to within three at 12-9. Just under three minutes later, Allison Kolacy found the back of the net off a Melissa Ritchey assist.
With the Spartans still trailing by two, senior captain Erica Mulford took control of the game. Mulford entered the game with 199 career points. Through the first 50 minutes of the game, Mulford was stuck on that number as she had attempted only one shot in the course of those 50 minutes.
Mulford reached 200 career points at the 9:59 mark when she weaved into the heart of the St. John Fisher defense and beat keeper Nicole Hart for the goal to bring York within one goal. Mulford tied the game 3:37 later as the game was tied for the first time since the opening minute of the game. The goal came with the Spartans playing a player down after a yellow card on the Green and White.
The intensity kicked up a notch when the Cardinals' Erin Ward was hit with a yellow card, giving York a two-minute man-advantage situation. The Spartans would maintain possession and patiently work the ball around the perimeter of the defense. Mulford fired off a shot with 3:09 left on the clock but the shot was high. York called timeout with a minute and 22 seconds left on the penalty. The Spartans were patient as they continued to work for a good shot.
After the Cardinals' penalty expired, the opportunity York was looking for finally came when Mulford dodged a Cardinal defender from the left wing and drove into the front of the goal. Mulford tucked the shot inside the right post for the go-ahead tally.
After the Cardinals gained possession as a result of a York turnover, the Spartans' other senior captain, keeper Ashley Smith made Mulford's game winner stand up. The Cardinals got a shot from Taylor Hughes with seven seconds that Smith turned away. St. John Fisher's Samantha Barton was awarded a free position shot with five seconds left that Smith saved only to have Barton get another chance with a Spartan foul on the rebound. Barton got a second chance at the free position shot but Smith again stood tall as she registered the save to end the game.
A Spartan comeback didn't look very likely after the opening four minutes of the game as St. John Fisher poured in four goals to take an early stranglehold of the contest. Megan Stine stopped the Fisher run with her 13th goal of the year at the 23:45 mark of the first half. Ritchey scored less than a minute later to cut the Spartan deficit to two goals.
The Cardinals' Taylor Hughes notched her second goal of the game as the St. John Fisher lead stood at 5-2 midway through the opening half. That goal started a run of the teams alternating goals for the next eight tallies as the Spartans trailed 8-6 after Noell's first free position goal of the game crossed the goal line with 1:37 left in the half. Stine finished off the explosive first 30 minutes with a goal from Ritchey with 1:10 left in the stanza.
The Cardinals seized control of the contest in the opening stages of the second half as they scored three of the first four goals of the period to push out to the four-goal advantage, setting the stage for the incredible Spartan comeback.
Spartan head coach Jen Muston was thrilled with the play of her squad.
"This was a total team win," Muston said. "Every player on our squad contributed to the win. Each of the players on the field made important plays and our bench had high energy during the game."
Sarah Castle led the Spartans as the junior tallied four points on two goals and two assists. Mulford, Stine, and Ritchey each added three points. Mulford poured in three goals while Stine each had two goals and an assist. Ritchey, who is second on the Spartans' all-time assist list, dished out a pair of assists while she also had a goal. Noell added a pair of free position goals in the win. Noell entered the game 0-for-1 for the season in free position shots. Kerri Nicolich also contributed two goals while Kolacy added her sixth goal of the year.
Hughes led the Cardinals with five goals on eight shots. Erin Ward contributed three goals while Jordan Johnson chipped in with two goals. Barton added two points on a goal and an assist. The Cardinals did not receive a point from their bench, as their starters were responsible for all 13 of their points in the contest.
Barton also had six ground balls while she also had five caused turnovers in the loss.
The Cardinals outshot the Spartans 25-22 while they also had a 15-11 advantage in ground balls. Both teams were 13-of-14 on clear attempts while York won 14 of the game's 27 draw controls. The Spartans committed 17 miscues while the Cardinals had 15 turnovers.
Smith finished the game with ten saves including three game-saving stops in the final 30 seconds of the game. She improves to 14-4 with the win.