Bloomsburg, Pa. — In a game that was worthy of its stage, the top-ranked Adelphi University women's lacrosse team scored five of the last six goals to defeat rival and second-seeded Le Moyne College, 11-7, on Friday to advance to the NCAA Division II Championship game on the campus of Bloomsburg University.
The Panthers (20-1), who trailed 6-5 with just under 20 minutes to play in the national semifinal, got the game-tying goal from Michele Scannell with 16:03 on the clock before Jacqueline Jahelka's man-down effort gave them a lead they would never relinquish just under five minutes later.
The Panthers advance to their ninth Division II title game in program history, as they boast a 7-1 record in national championship games.
"Jackie and I had a little talk, and we needed our big players to step up and be big. Thankfully, in the biggest moments of the game, our biggest players made the plays," Head Coach Pat McCabe said. "That's really what it comes down to at this time of year; when we play Le Moyne, there's no mystery, we know each other all too well. It just comes down to [your] big players coming through for you."
Jahelka, who hit the net post on three of her 10 shots taken in the game, nonetheless led Adelphi in scoring with four goals and one assist for a team-high five points. The senior scored three consecutively in the second half, as she turned a 6-6 tie into a 9-6 game, before Casey Zalewski finished with a flourish for Adelphi with two of her three goals in the final three minutes.
"I've had the privilege to play with some tremendous players on the offensive side who've really made me look great," Jahelka said. "We have a very young team this year, which is great, so just trying to take on the role of a leader and pave the way for the younger girls. With Le Moyne, it's kind of difficult because...they know our game, so at that point, you just have to trust your skills, pull something else out of your sleeve and hope for the best."
"I didn't want yesterday to be my last practice, I didn't want yesterday to be my last game. We have a great team, I love these girls -- and we just wanted another day."
Jahelka and Zalewski also helped Adelphi build a 5-3 lead at halftime, as Beth Ann Pierce tied the game at 3-3 with 13:04 remaining in the first half before the senior tandem scored with less than 30 seconds remaining in the period - Jahelka with 27 ticks on the clock before Zalewski found the back of the net with just three seconds left.
In what was a game of runs, Adelphi scored twice in the opening five minutes before Le Moyne scored three unanswered, and the Dolphins ran off the first three goals of the second half before the Brown and Gold rallied.
On the defensive side of the ball, Adelphi caused six of Le Moyne's 10 turnovers - none bigger than a pair from First Team All-American Ryley Weber in the second half. With the game tied at 6-6 and Adelphi a player down, Weber forced the ball out of the stick of Sidney Hall before scooping up the ground ball, leading to Jahelka's go-ahead effort down the other end. Three minutes later with under 10 to play, Le Moyne elected to pass on a free position opportunity, and Weber intercepted the pass from Hall before sprinting all the way down the field in a transition opportunity that led to Adelphi's eighth goal of the game off the stick of Jahelka.
"When you turn a situation where they feel like they're knocking on the door, and you go and slam the door on the other end, that's important," McCabe said. "Ryley makes the stand on defense and it ends up in Jackie's stick, and we score the goal and ultimately, those are the ones that take us to the win."
Both Weber and Kate Beier caused a pair of turnovers for Adelphi in contest, while Weber picked up five ground balls and Beier added three. Scannell was a force for the Panthers on both ends of the ball, scoring two goals, dishing off an assist and winning seven draw controls, while goalkeeper Hailey Peterson tied a career-high with nine saves on 25 shots faced.
"I have the best defense in the nation," Peterson said. "[They] make a stop, it gets me excited...anything we do, we're just always there."
Added Scannell: "It starts on defense. If we get a stop and bring it down, we don't want to keep turning it over because then we're just going to have to keep going up and down [the field]. If we keep a smart and settled possession, then we capitalize on it..and [we want to] be smart the whole time."
The Panthers will face the winner of Friday's second semifinal between Lindenwood (MO) or Florida Southern on Sunday in Bloomsburg, and a victory for the latter would set up a rematch of the 2016 title game.
"One of the things we promised ourselves we'd do this year is enjoy," McCabe said. "Enjoy the small accomplishments. We'll do the best we can to get a grasp on...who we're going to face, but we're going to enjoy this because they deserve it. They're good kids and they deserve to take some joy in this and then we'll get back to work tomorrow."