ALBANY, N.Y. – Meg Shea (Melrose, Mass.) scored at 4:53 of overtime to lift the University of New Hampshire field hockey team to a 3-2 victory against the University of Maine in an America East Championship semifinal game at the University at Albany’s Alumni Field on Friday afternoon.
UNH, seeded second in the tournament with a 3-2 league record, improved to 9-10 overall to advance to the Nov. 9 (1 p.m.) championship game against Albany, which defeated Boston University, 1-0, in the first semifinal game. Maine, the third seed by virtue of its 3-2 league record, ends the year at 6-11 overall.
With the score tied 2-2 at the end of regulation, the teams entered a 15-minute sudden-victory overtime session. Maine earned a corner in the first minute, but Stephanie Gardiner’s shot was blocked by UNH’s defense.
Minutes later, ‘Cats were awarded a direct hit just outside of the circle, and America East All-Conference Second Team Cally Cooke (Newburyport, Mass.) struck a low ball towards the right post that Shea, a First Team selection, redirected into the cage at 74:53 for her second goal of the game.
“Meg Shea was just totally outstanding today,” UNH 18th-year head coach Robin Balducci said. “And on the game-winning goal, that was just a great ball by Cally.
“We had a lot of corners and a lot of opportunities to score to give ourselves a chance to win the game. Maine played hard and kept coming at us. They marked our top players but other players stepped up and got things done.”
UNH goalkeeper Jenna Lehman (Kingston, Pa.), an All-Rookie Team selection, made nine first-half saves, including four in the opening six minutes, and finished in double digits for the fourth time this season with 11 overall. Maine counterpart Brittany Fleck was credited with six saves.
The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead at 29:02 when Kyle Lyons (White River Junction, Vt.) scored on a penalty stroke – it was the team’s first penalty stroke of the season and the first career goal and points for the rookie.
“We subbed Kyle in just to take the stroke, and she executed it perfectly,” Balducci said.
Maine was awarded a penalty corner as time expired in the first half, and Lehman preserved UNH’s one-goal lead with five saves on a series of three Black Bear corners.
“Lehman was big in this game,” Balducci stated. “She made some big stops on corners, notably at the end of the first half.”
Despite being turned away at the end of the half, Maine carried momentum into the second half. The Black Bears were awarded a pair of penalty corners in the 46th minute and Kelly Newton tied the game, 1-1, on the last of a flurry of three shots.
Shea potted her 10th goal of the season at 52:34 off a pass from fellow First Team and Offensive Player of the Year selection Sarah Craigue (Concord, N.H.). Cooke initiated the scoring sequence with the push on the penalty corner.
Maine pulled even again, at 2-2, at 58:55 when Jocelyn Mitchell carried the ball into the circle and scored from the left side.
UNH regrouped and dominated the remainder of regulation. Fleck turned aside Hayley Rausch (Severna Park, Md.) in the 63rd minute, then Brittany Jacobs (Frederick, Md.) fired a shot wide off a corner in the 64th minute. The ‘Cats earned another corner less than a minute later, and this time Craigue’s shot was blocked by the defense. Yet another corner produced back-to-back shots by Jacobs and Shea, but both were also stopped by the UM backfield.
UNH tallied a 13-8 shot advantage in the second half – and had the only shot in OT – to finish with a 21-20 advantage overall. The ‘Cats also generated a 9-2 edge in corners in the second half and had a 12-9 edge overall.
“Kendall Deck played well all over the field, and defensively she had a steady stick that helped us break out of our zone,” Balducci said of her All-Rookie Team student-athlete.
Sunday’s game will mark New Hampshire’s fifth overall appearance – first since 2000 – in the America East title game. UNH’s only tourney title was in 1998. At stake for both teams this weekend is the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.