#4 Middlebury Knocks Off #1 TCNJ, Will Play For National Title

Kate Furber finished with six saves during Saturday's victory over TCNJ. (photo by Sideline Media Productions)
Kate Furber finished with six saves during Saturday's victory over TCNJ. (photo by Sideline Media Productions)

Fast starts at the beginning of each half lifted fourth-ranked Middlebury to a 13-9 triumph over top-ranked The College of New Jersey (20-3) Saturday in the national semifinals in Salem, Virginia. The Panthers (20-2) advance to the title game for the second time in the last three seasons, claiming the crown in 2016. Middlebury will play for the program's seventh championship on Sunday, taking on defending champion Gettysburg at 2:00 p.m. The third-ranked Bullets won the opening game of the day with a 12-7 victory over second-ranked Salisbury.

With the win, the Panthers extended their winning streak to 11, while ending TCNJ's run at 13. Middlebury became the first team this season to record double digits in goals against the Lions, as they entered the game as the country's top defensive unit allowing 3.86 per contest.

The Panthers got off to a strong start, netting the initial three scores of the contest. Georgia Carroll tallied the first two goals for Middlebury, opening the scoring 2:28 into the game in transition on a short feed from Erin Nicholas. Her second tally came right at the top of the crease on an assist from Sara DiCenso. Kirsten Murphy made it 3-0 with 21:48 on the clock, bouncing a shot from close range through TCNJ goalie Miranda Chrone.

The Lions picked up their first goal of the game just past the midway point of the stanza, as Olivia Cleale found the back of the net with 14:16 showing on the scoreboard. TCNJ trimmed the difference to 3-2 just over a minute later on a free-position shot by Alexandria Fitzpatrick and with 7:04 left in the half tied the game in transition on a score by Kasey Donoghue.

The Panthers jumped back into the lead at 4-3, as Emma McDonagh took a nice feed from Hollis Perticone and beat Chrone by switching hands. The score was McDonagh's 100th career goal. The 4-3 edge held into the break for Middlebury, thanks to a save by goalie Kate Furber on a free-position attempt by Allie Gorman with 26 seconds remaining.

In the second half, the Panthers used another good start, reeling off three-straight goals. McDonagh whipped an underhanded shot in 1:29 into the fresh frame and Perticone tallied minutes later cutting to the net after taking a feed from Carroll. Carroll made 7-3 with 22:54 on the clock, ripping a shot inside the right post for her third tally of the contest.

TCNJ scored two of the next three goals, closing to within 8-5, but the Panthers kept the difference at three, washing out a player disadvantage for two minutes. Perticone extended the lead to 9-5 on a spin move at the top of the crease with 15:48 showing.

After Furber made a big stop on a free-position shot, the Panther offense responded with two more scores. Carroll scooped up a rebound and deposited the ball into an empty net, while Nicholas made it 11-5 with putting in back a second chance bid only 35 seconds later.

Cleale drew the Lions back to within 11-6 on a feed from Kathleen Jaeger with 7:04 left, but just over three minutes later Middlebury regained its six-goal lead when McDonagh rifled in a sidearm shot past Chrone.

TCNJ scored three of the final four goals, closing the final margin 13-9.

Carroll paced the Middlebury offense with four goals and one assist, while McDonagh scored four times. Perticone chipped in with three goals, an assist and a game-high 11 draw controls, while Nicholas and Addy Mitchell each collected four ground balls. Evie Keating added to a solid defensive effort with three caused turnovers and Furber finished with six saves to earn the victory.

Cleale topped the Lions with three goals, while Elizabeth Morrison caused four turnovers to go along with two draw controls and a pair of ground balls. Chrone made nine saves in goal.