Third-ranked Middlebury (22-1) raced out to an 8-2 lead before holding off a second-half push by #7 Salisbury, capturing the program's seventh NCAA Championship and second in the last four years with a 14-9 victory on Sunday in Ashland, Virginia. The national title is the 37th in team sports for Middlebury College since 1994 and the second during this academic year. The Panthers swept both games from Salisbury (20-4) this season and finished the spring with a perfect 16-0 record against ranked teams.
The victory increased Middlebury's winning streak to 22 games, as the Panthers tied the single-season mark for victories (2016) and finish with a school-record 330 goals. Panther head coach Kate Livesay wins her third NCAA title as a coach after leading Middlebury to the 2016 title and Trinity to the crown in 2012. She won twice as a Panther player on the 2001 and 2002 squads.
Middlebury pressed early and were rewarded with a pair of free-position attempts in the opening minutes. Earley and Grace Getman each converted from the eight-meter line for a 2-0 edge with 2:29 expired. Earley tallied again in transition, before the Sea Gulls netted back-to-back scores to trim the margin to a goal (3-2) with 22:14 on the clock. After Getman picked up her second score on a free-position shot with 20:12 remaining, the teams went just over seven minutes without a goal.
That streak ended when Earley used a crafty spin move on the top of the crease to collect a hat trick. McDonagh later bounced in a shot from the eight-meter line to increase the advantage to 6-2, while Keith came up big on the ensuing possession. She stopped Taylor Poore on a free-position attempt and seconds later denied Alexis Sobel from point-blank range. The teams traded two-goal spurts in the final 5:11, as the Panthers held an 8-4 advantage.
After Earley tallied for Middlebury 45 seconds into the second stanza, Salisbury put together a three-goal run. Sobel started the spurt with a player-advantage goal, while Lydia McNulty and Emma Skoglund tallied to close the gap to 9-7. McDonagh ended the run by the Sea Gulls, scoring with three seconds left on the shot clock with a low bid from the top of the crease with 14:50 remaining.
Kirsten Murphy gave the Panthers a little breathing room (11-7), using a bounce shot to beat Sea Gull goalie Skye Graham on a free-position attempt. Salisbury answered less than two minutes later on a high shot from the left side by Courtney Fegan with 10:23 left in the contest.
McDonagh's iced the game with a pair of goals in the final seven minutes, adding a nice assist as well on a goal by Hall at the right side of the crease with 3:10 left. Following an hour-and-a-half delay due to weather, the Sea Gulls added a goal from Skoglund with 46.6 seconds left for the 14-9 final.
McDonagh led the Panthers with five points on four goals and an assist, while Earley scored four times and tied a career-high with nine draw controls. Addy Mitchell chipped in with four ground balls, while Alex White had two caused turnovers and two ground balls. Keith (20-1) recorded nine saves to earn the victory.
McDonagh capped her stellar career in a Panther uniform, ranking among the program all-time leaders in both goals (169) and points (225).
For the Sea Gulls, Fegan, Strobel, Skoglund and McNulty each tallied twice, while Martha Hutzell won six draws. Graham (20-4) had five saves and four ground balls.
Middlebury's defense held the opposition to nine goals or less for final 18 contests, as the Panthers held a 29-21 edge in shots and possessed a 14-10 edge in draws in the title game.
The NCAA Championship is the second for Erin Nicholas this academic year, as she won the title with the Panther field hockey team last fall.