AMHERST, Mass. – The Middlebury field hockey team scored just 2:15 into overtime, capping off a second half comeback against the Polar Bears, to capture the 2013 NESCAC Championship title in a dramatic 5-4 final hosted by Amherst.
Fourth ranked Bowdoin was the number three seed in the conference playoffs, defeating Trinity and defending national champion Tufts, en route to the conference final. Fifth ranked Middlebury was the four seed heading into this year's NESCAC playoff, knocking off fifth seeded Colby and upsetting number one seeded Amherst. Capturing their second-consecutive NESCAC title (third all-time), the Panthers improved to 15-2 overall and earned the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Dropping to 14-3 on the season, Bowdoin will await to hear about a possible at-large bid when the full 24-team field is announced tonight at 10 p.m.
Wasting no time getting on the board, Bowdoin took the lead less than five minutes after the opening whistle. Receiving the insert off a penalty corner near the top of the circle, Colleen Finnerty ripped a shot toward goal that was blocked. With Middlebury's goalie on the ground by the left post, Rachel Kennedy collected the loose ball as it squirted free to the right and netted the Polar Bears' first of the game at 4:56. Less than a minute and a half later Bowdoin doubled its lead as Katie Riley carried the ball down the right side, forcing Middlebury's Emily Knapp to step out, which allowed Emily Simonton to redirect a high rebound into the left side of the cage.
In the 16th minute of the opening half, Katherine Theiss forced Bowdoin's Hannah Gartner to make a diving play, allowing Bridget Instrum to collect the rebound and slide a shot into the left corner. Middlebury nearly tied the game minutes later, but was denied as Finnerty earned a defense save to keep Bowdoin ahead 2-1. The Panthers would even the score in the 25th minute off a penalty corner as Elinore O'Brien and Instrum executed a give-and-go before Instrum tallied her second of the day with a low shot to the left corner. Bowdoin answered back with less than two minutes remaining in the half as Riley carried down the right side and fired off a low angle shot. Knapp caught a piece of the ball as it passed by, but was unable to deflect it away before it trickled into the net.
Carrying their momentum into the second half, the Polar Bears went back up two shortly following the intermission. After a couple of quick shots on net, the ball got trapped under Knapp following a scrum on the near post. Converting the ensuing penalty stroke, Finnerty made it 4-2 with 28:00 minutes left in regulation. Kelsey Mullaney recorded a pair of defensive saves for the Polar Bears after denying a two shots from Middlebury's Kelsey Mullaney. The Panthers pulled within one just over ten minutes to go in the game as Instrum backhanded a shot to the inside post off another corner. Just over two minutes later she evened the score by putting away a loose ball in front of the net.
Still tied at the end of regulation the game headed into a first overtime session. Gaining possession, Middlebury quickly won a penalty corner. Holding the insert on the right side, Fowler fed a pass to Alyssa DiMaio on the back post, who slapped the game winner into the back of the cage while going to the ground.
Middlebury finished with a 12-10 shot advantage and an 11-3 edge in corners. Knapp made five saves in the win, while Gartner finished with three stops.