DURHAM, N.H. – Whitney Frates (Woodstock, Vt.) recorded a goal and two assists and Hayley Rausch (Severna Park, Md.) scored twice to propel the 19th-ranked University of New Hampshire field hockey team to Thursday afternoon's 3-2 victory against the University of Maine in an America East Championship semifinal game at Memorial Field.
UNH, the tourney's top seed after going undefeated (5-0) during league regular-season play, is now 14-6 overall and will play 15th-ranked University at Albany – a 2-1 victor against 18th-ranked Boston University in the late semifinal – in the title game Nov. 6 (4 p.m.) at Memorial Field. The second-seeded Great Danes, who lost 4-1 last week at UNH, improved to 14-5.
Maine, which also lost to UNH by a 3-2 score on its home field during the regular season, ends the year at 13-6. BU, which defeated Albany by penalty strokes two weeks ago on the road, moves to 10-8.
The Black Bears took a 1-0 lead at 10:48 when Brittney Cummings advanced the ball from the top of the circle and Jocelyn Mitchell redirected it into the open cage.
New Hampshire responded with a goal less than two minutes later – at 12:17 – to level the score, 1-1. The Wildcats quickly transitioned the ball upfield for Frates, who maneuvered to the left side of the circle and utilized a reverse stick to move the ball towards the near post, where Rausch redirected a shot across the goalmouth inside the right post.
The 'Cats generated another transition attack in the ninth minute. Rausch, who was named to the America East All-Conference Second Team on Wednesday, carried the ball down the right side and sent the ball across the top of the circle to Meg Callanan (Lititz, Pa.), whose shot was blocked aside by UM goalkeeper Brittany Fleck.
UNH was awarded a penalty corner midway through the first half and Kyle Lyons (White River Junction, Vt.) struck a high shot that Fleck denied with her blocker. The Wildcats created another corner a minute later and Lyons lifted a high shot towards the right side of the cage that Fleck once again turned away with her blocker.
Maine regained the lead, 2-1, at 19:40 in a transition attack. Mitchell, near the left sideline, dribbled the ball from midfield to the circle and struck a centering pass in front that Kelly Newton redirected into the cage.
The 'Cats pulled even on its fourth corner of the half at 27:59. The battery of Rausch and Kara Connolly (Mohegan Lake, N.Y.) set up another shot by Lyons, and this time Frates – an All-Conference First Team selection for the second consecutive year – was positioned in front for a redirection into the cage.
With four minutes remaining in the first half, UNH goalie Katherine Nagengast (Westborough, Mass.) charged from the goal line to poke-check the ball from Newton. Cummings corralled the ball, however, and sent a shot towards the open cage that was directed away by UNH back Megan Bozek (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.), an All-Rookie Team honoree, to keep the score tied at 2.
One minute later, Frates went on the attack and stormed past two Black Bears' defenders at the top of the circle. She then sent a low, hard shot on goal that was tipped wide by Fleck.
It was a 2-2 deadlock at halftime with New Hampshire holding the edge in both shots (12-7) and corners (5-0).
Ten minutes into the second half, Newton pivoted in the middle of the circle and was denied by Nagengast.
With 22 minutes on the clock, UNH's Connolly ripped a shot from deep on the right wing that rolled wide of the far post.
The Wildcats threatened again with 10 minutes remaining, but Rausch's bid from the left wing was turned aside by Fleck, who also denied Frates off the rebound on the right side.
New Hampshire took its first lead of the game, 3-2, at 62:54. Frates' diving effort in the top-right of the circle sent the ball past Fleck, who had charged from the goal line, and Rausch pushed a shot into the open cage.
Maine generated a corner with four minutes to play. The battery of Courtney Veinotte and Mallory Anderson set up a shot by Alexa Binnendijk that was deflected wide left of the cage.
UM pulled Fleck in favor of an extra field player with 3:10 remaining. UNH was awarded a corner less than a minute later, but Lyons lifted a shot over the crossbar.
The visitors had one last opportunity when they were given a penalty corner with 30 seconds on the clock. The Black Bears attempted to swing the ball wide right, but the Wildcats successfully cleared the ball to end the game and advance to the America East title game for the sixth time.
Nagengast finished with five saves for UNH. Fleck, who entered the game ranked fifth in the nation in save percentage, was credited with nine stops.
New Hampshire finished the game with the advantage in both shots (18-12) and corners (7-6), and the Wildcats held the seventh-best offense in the nation below its average of 3.43 goals per game.