Gettysburg Clears Path to Final Four with Gritty Effort

GETTYSBURG, Pa.  Third-ranked Gettysburg College overcame an early five-goal deficit with a 10-2 run spanning the first and second periods and kept its dreams of repeating as NCAA Division III champion alive with a 13-10 victory over No. 6 Amherst College in the women's lacrosse national quarterfinals at Clark Field Sunday.
 
With the victory, Gettysburg (19-2) heads to the semifinals for the second consecutive season and for the seventh time since 2006.
 
"We're over the moon about the opportunity for our team to head down to Roanoke and experience the final four," said Head Coach Carole Cantele '83. "It's an experience unlike any other. Most importantly, it gives us another opportunity to be together and to celebrate what a great year it's been for everybody."
 
Things looked bleak early on as Amherst (17-3) broke out for the game's first three goals and won the opening five draw controls. After Hannah Fox tossed in her second goal on a free-position shot with 13:41 to play, the Mammoths held a 6-1 advantage.
 
"We knew to start scoring we had to start getting the ball," said freshman Kerry McKeever (Stony Brook, N.Y./Ward Melville), who finished with a game-high five goals. "We never really got flustered because we've scored 11 goals in a half before. Five goals didn't seem insurmountable. We knew we had to chip away one at a time and everyone had to do their job. That's what we started doing and we kept it going."
 
Gettysburg ended the first half on a 4-0 run. The Bullets took advantage of a pair of yellow cards in the final two minutes with junior Lauren Cole (Madison, Conn./Daniel hand) scoring on a free position shot and McKeever netting an unassisted tally to pull the score to 6-5 at the break.
 
After falling behind 8-4 on draws in the opening half, Gettysburg turned the tide by winning 10-of-13 draws in the final 30 minutes. The Bullets won each of the first six draw controls in the final period and it translated into the first lead of the game for the hosts. Senior Katie Landry (Hingham, Mass./Hingham) found sophomore Liza Barr (Medford, N.J./Shawnee) just before the possession clock expired to cap a 3-0 lead and hand Gettysburg its first lead at 8-7 with 23:33 to play.
 
"I think the kids know how to grind and the harder you work the luckier you become," noted Cantele. "I think a lot of the balls started coming to our sticks a little bit and we just converted on things at the right moment."
 
Amherst tied the game in short order, but that would be the visitor's last goal for nearly 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the Bullets ran off three goals by Cole, senior Katie Willis (Baltimore, Md./Notre Dame Prep), and Landry to take an 11-8 lead with 13:37 left.
 
The Bullets were well aware of what could happen if they let their guard down and Amherst in unsurprising fashion ran off the next two goals to pull within one.
 
"We knew they were coming right at us," said junior defender Brooke Holechek (Reisterstown, Md./Notre Dame Prep). "Our main goal was to stay at home. We didn't need the big play. We knew if we did that and count on Bailey (Pilder) to make the save then we knew we could get it together and score on the other end."
 
Junior goalie Bailey Pilder (New Canaan, Conn./New Canaan) posted a game-high eight saves on the day, but it was a caused turnover that may have sealed Amherst's fate. Pilder put her stick out at the right moment to knock down a pass from Claire Dunbar. The junior picked up the ball and heaved a long outlet to Willis near midfield. The senior attacker cut to the cage and found McKeever for a score and a 12-10 lead.
 
The Mammoths turned the ball over on each of their next three possessions and McKeever fired home her fifth goal to make it a three-goal lead with 1:43 left.
 
Junior Steph Colson (Westminster, Md./Manchester Valley) snared the game's final draw and Gettysburg ran out most of the remaining time to clinch the victory.
 
Willis finished the day with two goals and two assists, while Barr and Cole each produced two tallies. Landry finished with a goal and two assists.
 
Colson turned in another solid stat line with one goal, two assists, three ground balls, two caused turnovers, and seven draw controls. She recorded her 100th career point and shattered the program's single-season record for draw controls. Colson has 122 draw controls on the year, besting the previous mark of 116 set by Megan Murphy '03 in 2001.
 
"I'm really proud of the production that the players had today," said Cantele. "I don't think they were mindful of what their goal counts were and how many draws they had. I think they just took advantage of the opportunities that were there."
 
PIlder added five ground balls and one caused turnover to her save total. Senior Elsie Wagner (Berwyn, Pa./Conestoga) tallied two caused turnovers and a ground ball, while senior Cassie Smith (Phoenix, Md./St. Paul's School for Girls) recorded two ground balls and a caused turnover.
 
Fox led Amherst with three goals and eight draw controls. Dunbar posted two goals and two assists, while Crerend scored a pair of goals.
 
The Bullets face No. 2 Salisbury University (21-1) next Saturday at Kerr Stadium on the campus of Roanoke College. Joining those two teams will be top-ranked College of New Jersey (20-2) and fourth-ranked Middlebury College (19-2). Game times will be announced early next week.
 
For the majority of the team, it is a return to the venue that saw a 6-5 win over TCNJ for the program's second national title last May. This season's team has some different characters starring in the story, but the goal remains the same.
 
"I am honored to be back there," said Holechek. "It's not easy to get there and we've worked so hard since February 1st. I'm excited to have our underclassmen come with us and be there with us and experience something as exciting as this."
 
"I'm so proud of this group because they were bold enough to say while we are a new team, we have the same dream," said Cantele. "That was something they presented to one another and they have really lived that."