DURHAM, N.H. -- Kayla Best, the University at Albany's top goal scorer, scored her only goal of the game with 40 seconds remaining in regulation to break a 12-12 tie and lift the Great Danes to Saturday afternoon's 13-12 victory against the University of New Hampshire in America East women's lacrosse action at Memorial Field.
UNH, which recognized seniors Shaunna Kaplan (Framingham, Mass.) and Kellen Millard (Ipswich, Mass.) prior to their last home game, is now 9-5 overall and 3-2 in America East. Despite the loss, the Wildcats earned a berth in the America East Championship tournament for the 13th consecutive year by virtue of the University of Vermont's loss at Boston University.
Albany won its third consecutive game to improve to 12-2 overall and remains tied with BU atop the league standings at 5-0. The Great Danes play host to BU on May 1 for the regular-season title. The loser of that game will be UNH's opponent in a May 6 semifinal game.
Amber Casiano (South Windsor, Conn.) led UNH's attack with career highs in both goals (three) and points (four) to earn the team's America East Player of the Game honor. Kaplan, Allie Bratton (Windermere, Fla.) and Kate Keagins (Bay Shore, N.Y.) each finished with two goals and an assist. Keagins was also credited with four ground balls, two caused turnovers and three draw controls. Kathleen O'Keefe (Chatham, N.J.) finished with nine saves and three ground balls.
Christine Grueniger, the America East Player of the Game for Albany, scored three goals and set up Best's game-winning goal to record four points; she also had seven draw controls. Mel Rorie scored a game-high four goals. Ashley Ross stopped three shots both halves for a total of six saves. UA's defensive efforts were highlighted by Stephanie Kempf – game-high four caused turnovers, two ground balls, one draw control – and Tricia Primomo (team-high four ground balls). Nikki Branchini tallied four draw controls, three ground balls and one caused turnover.
New Hampshire raced out to a 5-0 lead just more than seven minutes into the game. Casiano, the league's reigning Rookie of the Week, drove down the middle of the fan and converted Keagins' pass from the right wing into a goal just 19 seconds into the game to quickly give the 'Cats a 1-0 lead.
JoJo Curro (Amherst, N.H.; 1g, 1a), on a cut down the middle, one-timed Bratton's feed from the right wing into the upper-right corner at 27:26 and Keagins struck 54 seconds later to extend the advantage to 3-0. Casiano, deep on the left side, beat a double team with a pass to Keagins and she scored at the left doorstep.
The duo of Bratton and Ilana Cohen (Andover, Mass.) combined to produce goals at 23:55 and 22:49 to give UNH a 5-0 lead. On a re-start in the defensive zone, Keagins quickly advanced the ball to Cohen, who raced down the middle of the field into the attacking zone. Cohen swung a pass to Bratton, who fired a shot into the goal from the top-right side. Albany called time out, but the 'Cats gained possession on a Keagins' caused turnover. UNH advanced the ball downfield and UA was called offsides. On that re-start, Casiano quickly passed to Cohen on the right wing and she in turn quickly hit Bratton cutting down the middle for the goal at 22:49.
Albany scored goals 24 seconds apart to trim the deficit to 5-2. Taylor Frink curled behind the net to the left post and scored on a high shot at 20:36. Grueniger gained possession on the ensuing draw control. Rorie sped around a pair of UNH defenders on the right wing, charged towards the post and fired a shot near-side into the goal at 20:12.
O'Keefe made a save against Grueniger on a free position at 19:59 and then denied Rorie at 19:01 to preserve UNH's three-goal lead. Keagins corralled the ground ball following the latter save that, following a patient attack, set up Kaplan's goal at 15:54 when corralled a loose ball in the middle of the fan and fired a shot inside the right post to extend the Wildcats' advantage to 6-2.
Olivia Jarem scored goals at 15:26 and 11:26 to pull the visitors within 6-4. She struck first on a drive down the left wing and then scored a free-position goal from the top-left side.
The Great Danes won the following draw control and were awarded a free position at 10:02, but Best was turned aside by O'Keefe and UNH called timeout. The Wildcats advanced the ball into the offensive zone and Kaplan rolled behind the net to the left side and hesitated before shooting the ball inside the far post for a 7-4 score at 7:10.
UA once again controlled the draw – the Great Danes won 20 of 27 draw controls overall – and Rachael Burek scored a free-position goal on a drive from the top of the fan just 13 seconds after Kaplan's goal (at 6:57) to close the first-half scoring at 7-5 in favor of New Hampshire. O'Keefe made three saves in the last 6:57 of the half and Ross denied both UNH seniors in the closing minute.
Jenny Simpson (New Canaan, Conn.) extended her point-scoring streak to nine games with a free-position goal at 22:44 to give UNH an 8-5 lead.
Albany went on a 5-0 run in a 10-minute span to transform a three-goal deficit into a two-goal advantage. On the left wing, Jodi Battaglia hit Grueniger cutting down the left side and she scored on a shot into the upper-right corner at 21:52. Rorie scored her second goal of the game on a high shot inside the right post at 20:43 and then Melanie Sosnowski scored on a free position at 19:49 to level the score, 8-8.
Rorie struck again at 16:00 on a drive down the right side to give the Great Danes their first lead of the game. Battaglia, from behind the net, found Grueniger in traffic in the middle of the fan and her sidearm shot sailed into the net at 10:26.
UNH called time out at that point and after UA won the draw control, Ally Stager (Reading, Mass.) intercepted a pass to give possession to the Wildcats. Keagins advanced the ball through the midfield into the attacking zone, charged down the right side and fired a shot inside the far post to lift the 'Cats within 10-9 at 9:57.
Keagins gained possession on the draw control and New Hampshire pulled even, 10-10, at 9:21 when Kaplan's pass from the right wing was one-timed into the goal by Casiano, who slashed through the middle of the fan.
Albany scored goals at 6:59 and 6:11 to build a 12-10 lead. Grueniger put the Great Danes back on top with a drive down the right wing and Rorie's fourth goal of the game – this time on a free position from the top of the fan – created a two-goal differential.
The Wildcats roared back to tie the score. Curro, from behind the net, found Hayley Rausch (Severna Park, Md.) driving down the middle and she scored from close range to trim the deficit to 12-11 at 3:22.
Kaplan gained possession on the ensuing draw control and that set up the tying goal in which Casiano curled behind the net to the right post and fired a high shot into the net at 1:56.
Grueniger won the following draw and Albany immediately called a timeout. The Great Danes set up a perimeter attack and Best, cutting along the right side, converted Grueniger's pass into a goal with 40 seconds remaining.
UA continued its dominance of draw controls, but Stager drew a charge with 30 seconds on the clock to give possession to UNH. Keagins, with the ball at the top of the fan and just six seconds remaining, drove to the right and her low shot bounced over the crossbar. Time expired as the the ball bounded out of bounds.
Albany finished with a 28-23 shot advantage in addition to the aforementioned 20-7 edge in draw controls. UNH had a 16-14 advantage in ground balls and committed fewer turnovers (15-19).
New Hampshire concludes the regular season with a pair of road games in the upcoming week. UNH plays Boston College on April 28 (4 p.m.) and Vermont on May 1 (1 p.m.).