Southern Maine Upends Eastern Connecticut for LEC Title

MANFIELD, Conn. The University of Southern Maine became the first No. 5 seed to win the Little East Conference women's lacrosse playoffs Saturday afternoon, scoring the first six goals of the match and fending off several bids by No. 3 seed Eastern Connecticut State University to post a 15-14 victory at the Manfield Outdoor Complex.

Until this year, no seed lower than No. 2 had even reached the finals. The Huskies defeated No. 4 Western Connecticut and No. 1 Keene State College before completing the sweep to capture its first title in its second championship game appearance.

All of USM's wins came on the road. After losing to Western, Keene and Eastern by a total of four goals during the regular season, Southern Maine won its three playoff games over those teams by a total of four goals. The Warriors had knocked off No. 2 seed Plymouth State University, 11-10 in overtime in Thursday's semifinals to reach the final for the eighth time in the nine-year history of the championship.

Southern Maine (11-9) qualifies automatically for its first NCAA tournament. In 2008, second-seeded USM had lost to top-seeded Eastern, 17-10 in its only previous final appearance.

Tournament MVP Jessica Knight (Alfred, ME) scored three of her seven goals in the first eight minutes to help Southern Maine break to a 6-0 lead and the visitors never relinquished the lead. Eastern's (9-10) most extended offensive thrust of the game resulted in five straight goal and cut the Husky lead to one with seven minutes left in the first half.

Trailing by three at halftime, Eastern cut a goal off that deficit on five separate occasions and by the final one-goal margin with six seconds left. Eastern won the ensuing draw but was unable to get a clean shot off.

In a battle of freshman goalies, Southern Maine's Samantha Kiesel (Lakeville) stopped 17 shots, ten in the second half. Eastern's Nancy Ibrahim (Lindenhurst, NY) made six saves. Junior Mary Vaughan (Brunswick, ME), the team's second-leading scorer, contributed three goals and two assists and won four ground balls for the winners.

Eastern sophomore Ashley Prizio (Brookfield) and senior Brooke Wayte (Bellport, NY) combined for nine goals and senior Taylor MacDonald (Oak Bluffs, MA) had three goals and five assists, for the Warriors, who had won seven straight LEC matches after losing their season-opener to Keene State. Freshman Daniela Marchitto (Orange) won 15 of 28 faceoffs.

MacDonald and Prizio combined to win nine draws for Eastern and Knight and Vaughan teamed to claim nine for Southern Maine. Eastern accumulated six yellow cards in the match, three coming in the final three minutes, which had the Warriors playing a man on every card.

The runaway conference scoring leader with 75 goals, Knight scored 18 goal in the team's three playoff wins, netting eight in the first-round victory over Western Connecticut.

The win for Southern Maine over Eastern, a former three-time playoff champion, is the Huskies first after 12 losses in the series, two coming in the playoffs.

* * * *

MANSFIELD, Conn. -- Senior Jessica Knight (Alfred, Maine/Massabesic) scored a game-high seven goals and passed out an assist to lead the fifth-seeded University of Southern Maine Huskies to their first Little East Conference title Saturday, defeating third-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University, 15-14, in the championship game.

The win was the third straight, and fifth in the last six games, for the Huskies who improved to 11-9 overall and advance to the NCAA Division III National Championship tournament that begins Wednesday. The Warriors conclude their season 9-10.

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