YORK – Midway through the second half of Saturday's NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Tournament Second Round game, it looked like #14 St. John Fisher was going to advance to the next round of the tournament. The Cardinals held a four-goal lead and had just finished a three-goal spurt that gave them a 12-8 lead over #13 York College.
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 over 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 (Silver Spring, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel) 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 (Rockaway, N.J./Morris Knolls) found the back of the net off a Melissa Ritchey (Hampstead, Md./North Carroll) assist.
With the Spartans still trailing by two, senior captain Erica Mulford (Crownsville, Md./Seton Keough) 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 over 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 (Cinnaminson, N.J./Cinnaminson) 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 (Stevensville, Md./Annapolis Area Christian) 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," said Muston. "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 (Annapolis, Md./Annapolis Area Christian) 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 (Islip, N.Y./Islip) also contributed two goals while Kolacy added her sixth goal of the year.
Karlie Dougherty (Baltimore, Md./Mercy) led the Spartans with four draw controls while she also had three caused turnovers. Senior Jess Soroka (Pasadena, Md./Chesapeake Senior) added three caused turnovers, three ground balls and a draw control.
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.
Hart finished the game with five saves for the Cardinals as she suffered her first loss of the year (6-1).
Muston knew the Spartans weren't out of the game despite St. John Fisher's fantastic start.
"We have a bunch of kids who work really hard and never give up," said Muston. "We have faced similar situations this year and, like they have all year, we kept fighting and were able to get back into the game. That's one of the major reasons we have been able to come from behind all year long. This team never stops fighting."
Muston also was thankful that her senior captains made plays at the end of the game.
"Ashley and Erica the ability to make plays when we need them the most and they certainly did that today. They are both really tough players and our team takes their cue from them. They do a great job of leading our team."
The Spartans move to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, as they will face fifth-ranked Amherst. The game time and site will be announced Monday by the NCAA.