The Middlebury women's lacrosse team saw its run through the NCAA Tournament come to a close, as the Panthers fell 8-4 at top-ranked The College of New Jersey in Sunday's regional final. Eighth-ranked Middlebury (16-5) was seeking its third-straight trip to the final four and finishes its season at 16-5. The Lions (18-1) atoned for their lone setback of the season when the Panthers won at Lions Stadium in March, moving into the championship weekend.
Both teams excelled defensively in the opening five minutes with Middlebury goalie Kate Furber coming up with a pair of key stops. Furber first made a save on a scoring bid by Erin Harvey with less than three minutes expired and denied Mia Blackman on a free-position attempt minutes later.
The Lions opened the scoring 5:31 into the frame when Allie Gorman scored from close range. Middlebury's best chance to break onto the scoreboard in the opening half came minutes later when Mary O'Connell had a free-position shot stopped by TCNJ's Miranda Chrone.
The hosts doubled their advantage just over 10 minutes later when Blackman converted on a free-position shot. Blackman scored from the top of the crease with 8:05 on the clock, giving the Lions a three-goal advantage. TCNJ added one more goal before the end of the half, carrying a 4-0 lead into the break.
Amanda Muller netted back-to-back goals for the Lions to start the second half before the Panthers scored to make it 6-1. Delaina Smith carried the ball the length of the field in transition for the visitors and slipped a pass to Bea Eppler, who tallied with 23:22 left on the clock. That score ended TCNJ's impressive streak of not allowing a goal at 100:53 of NCAA Tournament action. Middlebury's Emma McDonagh scored less than two minutes later, making it a 6-2 contest and prompting the hosts to take a timeout.
O'Connell trimmed another goal off the Panther deficit, as she circled the cage and bounced a shot into the upper-right corner with 18:23 remaining, but goals by Kristen Harvey and Blackman pushed TCNJ's lead to 8-3.
Middlebury added a goal in the closing seconds on a tally by Susanna Baker for the 8-4 final.
Eppler, McDonagh, O'Connell and Baker each scored for the Panthers, while Baker and Evie Keating each scooped up four ground balls. Furber finished the contest with seven saves.
With her goal against the Lions, O'Connell finished her standout career third all-time in career points (244) and assists (111).
For the hosts, Blackman led all players with three goals, while Elizabeth Morrison had five ground balls, five caused turnovers and two draw controls. Chrone earned the win with seven stops.
Middlebury had the edge in ground balls (18-17) for the game, but TCNJ had the advantage in shots (20-13) and draw controls (9-4).
The Lions boast the nation's top defense, allowing a mere 3.18 goals per game and the most they have given up in a game this season is six.