PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Second-seeded Plymouth State University jumped out to a 4-1 lead and then had to hold on for a 4-3 victory over third-seeded University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Thursday afternoon in a Little East Conference Field Hockey Tournament semifinal game at Arold Field.
The Panthers captured their eighth straight victory and improved to 13-6 overall. PSU advances to the LEC Championship game for the first time since 2004, and will face four-time defending champion Keene State College Saturday in Keene. The top-seeded Owls advanced to the championship match Thursday evening with a dramatic 2-1 overtime win over fourth-seeded University of Suthern Maine. UMD had its seven-game winning streak snapped and completes its season at 16-6.
Four different players scored goals for PSU, with junior Sarah Smith (Lexington, Mass.) picking up a goal and an assist, while senior Rebecca Stephens (North Andover, Mass.) scored two goals and sophomore Stephanie Kinchla (Falmouth, Mass.) added a goal and an assist for the Corsairs.
The game was scoreless for the first 20 minutes until freshman Christina Parisi (Hampton Falls, N.H.) put the Panthers on the board. UMD junior goalie Seanna Golden (Somerset, Mass.) made a save on a shot by junior Kerry D'Ambroise (Lowell, Mass.) but Parisi was there to knock in the rebound for her second goal of the season. The Corsairs answered five minutes later when Stephens scored the first of two goals, finishing off a nice crossing pass from Kinchla.
It looked like the teams would go into halftime tied at 1-1, but PSU scored twice in just over a minute to take a 3-1 advantage at the break. Senior Ashley Gutowski (Conway, N.H.) deflected a shot past Golden on a Panther penalty corner for her 13th goal of the season, with D'Ambroise and freshman Lauren Bergeron (New Hampton, N.H.) picking up assists, and senior Sarah Smith (Lexington, Mass.) made it 3-1 with her team-leading 17th goal of the season just a minute and 15 seconds later.
PSU extended the lead to 4-1 six minutes into the second half when a cross by Smith was knocked in by sophomore Kristina Conroy (Wakefield, Mass.)
The Corsairs would not go quietly and battled back to within a goal. Stephens picked up a loose ball and found the back of the net for her 15th goal of the season with 23:40 remaining, and Kinchla made it 4-3 with her team-leading 23rd of the season on a penalty corner with 10:38 remaining, with sophomore Becca Festinger (Greenfield, Mass.) and junior Kylie Treat (Hampstead, N.H.) assisting. But that's as close as the Corsairs could come.
Golden finished with 19 saves while PSU freshman keeper Elyse Sedgley (Hopkinton, NH) made four saves to earn the win.
PSU will be making its seventh appearance in the LEC championship game. The Panthers won three straight titles from 2000-02, and finished runner-up in 1998, 1999, and 2004. The LEC champion receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
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