MIDDLEBURY, Vermont - The Middlebury College field hockey team won its second NESCAC Championship with a 3-2 shootout victory over Bowdoin Saturday on Kohn Field.
The top-ranked Panthers remain perfect on the season at 17-0 and will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Sixth-ranked Bowdoin falls to 14-3 on the year and is expected to get an at-large selection to the tournament when they are announced on Sunday evening.
Bowdoin had won each of the last six NESCAC Championship games they took part in, with seven overall titles and nine championship game appearances. Middlebury was making its sixth appearance in the title game, earning its previous crown in '03. The game was the second NESCAC Championship contest to go into a shootout, with Bowdoin taking the title over Williams in '05. Bowdoin suffers just its second loss in NESCAC Tournament play since '05, with Middlebury avenging a 2-1 loss in the title game a year ago.
Bowdoin took a 1-0 lead just 2:01 into the game when Kassey Matoin scored her second goal of the season with a shot to the bottom left side of the cage on a penalty stroke. Middlebury answered 1:23 later when Anna Kenyon sent a centering pass from the right side towards the goal. Alyssa DiMaio was there to knock it in for her seventh of the year to tie the game at 1-1.
The Polar Bears took a 2-1 lead late in the first half, when Rachel Kennedy scored her team-leading 14th goal of the season. Molly Paduda sent a pass towards the middle where Kennedy was there to sweep it in. Middlebury threatened with two late penalty corners and a pair of shots on net, but entered halftime with a 2-1 deficit.
Middlebury though they had tied the game at the 48:54 mark of the second half, but a goal was waved off due to a high stick. Following a Bowdoin timeout, the Polar Bears came back strong, with Kennedy being denied in the 50th minute on a nice save by Middlebury keeper Madeline Brooks, who came out to challenge the play. Brooks again denied Kennedy in the 57th minute, with an unsuccessful penalty corner to follow.
Middlebury tied the game with just 6:30 remaining, with Lauren Greer netting her NESCAC-best 34th of the year. Katherine Theiss sent a pass to Greer, whose hard shot deflected off a defender and into the goal to tie the game at 2-2.
The first overtime saw no great scoring chances, with each team earning two shots with a pair of penalty corner opportunities for Bowdoin. The Polar Bears had a good look 2:30 into the second overtime session, but a high shot by Cathleen Smith on a penalty corner was turned away by Brooks.
Middlebury had the best chance to take home the title with 3:20 left, but Greer's penalty stroke high to the right was stopped by Kayla Lessard to preserve the 2-2 tie. Katie Riley of Bowdoin drove 40 yards down the field late in the game, ending in a pair of unsuccessful penalty corners for the Polar Bears as time had expired.
After 100 minutes of play, the game entered a five-round shootout. Cathleen Smith and Kennedy scored early for Bowdoin, with Greer converting for the Panthers. Middlebury's Elinore O'Brien was stopped by Lessard to give the Polar Bears a 2-1 lead after two rounds.
Brooks made a nice poke save to deny Riley, before Lessard stopped two shot from Middlebury's Anna Kenyon to keep it 2-1. A flip shot went wide left for Matoin, before Panther Charlotte Gardiner tied the shootout at 2-2 with a shot to the right side.
Bowdoin looked to take the lead in the final round, but Adrienne O'Donnell missed wide after a deke move on Brooks. After faking a shot and a nice spin move, Middlebury's Catherine Fowler found the right side of the net to give the Panthers the title.
Bowdoin held a slight 15-13 shots advantage in the game, with a 13-5 edge in penalty corners. Brooks and Lessard each finished with nine saves apiece.
Photos of Elena Crosley (above right) and Bowdoin captains Kayla Lessard and Catherine Smith courtesy of Will Costello.