SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Behind a six-point afternoon from senior attack Haley Bloom (Hauppauge, N.Y.), the top seeded Bryant University women's lacrosse team took down #4 Central Connecticut, 13-7, Friday afternoon at the Bryant Turf Complex in the Northeast Conference Tournament Semifinals.
The eighth-straight victory for the Bulldogs (14-3, 7-0 Northeast Conference) puts them right back where they were one year ago, in the NEC Tournament Championship.
"Central really had one of their best games all season," said Bryant head coach Jill DePetris-Batcheller. "But our tough schedule and experience in close, competitive games helped give us the confidence to finish strong this afternoon."
A much different start than the 10-goal beat down the Black and Gold handed the Blue Devils just two weeks prior; after a pair of early scores from senior midfielder Lisa Vendel (Sandy Hook, Conn.) and Bloom, CCSU answered right back scoring three-straight, including a pair from Maeghan McCurry, to take a 3-2 advantage, just over 11 minutes into the contest.
Vendel's second tally of the afternoon brought the Bulldogs back even at the 18:10 mark, but a drought, lasting nearly nine minutes, kept the two teams knotted, 3-3. The NEC Offensive Player of the Year found the back of the net once more at the 9:37 mark, pushing Bryant ahead, 4-3, until yet another nine-minute scoreless streak kept the host's edge at just one.
In the final minute of the first half, Bloom found sophomore attack Lauren Descalzo (Hauppauge, N.Y.) in front of the net to up Bryant's margin to two goals, until Central's Amanda Toke cut the deficit in half, bringing the visitors within a single goal, 5-4, with 16 seconds to play until halftime.
In the final seconds of the period, CCSU's Madison Hughes won the draw control but was stripped by Vendel who quickly advanced the ball to Bloom who lofted a beautiful pass to Descalzo who beat Central keeper Morgan Tullar with 0.8 seconds on the clock, giving Bryant the 6-4 leading heading into the locker room.
"Lisa [Vendel] and Haley [Bloom] really did a great job of facilitating our offense throughout the game," added DePetris-Batcheller. "But it was really the defense that kept Central's strong attack at bay and kick started our attack."
"The defense was absolutely terrific, and stuck to the game plan, taking Central Connecticut right out of their comfort zone."
The second half began just as competitively as the first with the Blue Devils scoring less than 90 seconds into the period on Toke's third of the game, bringing the visitors within a single goal once again, 6-5. However the top seeded Bulldogs started to flex their muscles over the next 10+ minutes with a goal from Descalzo and two from Bloom to give the Bulldogs their largest lead of the contest, 9-5.
CCSU scored two of the next three, with scores from Erin Dougherty and McCurry separated by Bloom's fourth marker, giving the Black and Gold the solid, 10-7 edge with 11:53 to play.
Bryant netminder Brianna Watt (Babylon, N.Y.) stopped three Blue Devil chances to earn her 14th win of the year while Tullar made 10 saves in the loss.
With the win, Bryant advances to play #2 seeded Wagner, Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. in Smithfield for the Northeast Conference Tournament Championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Seahawks and Bulldogs last met on April 4, in Staten Island with Bryant escaping with a 7-6 double overtime victory.
"A lot has changed since the last time we played Wagner," said Depetris-Batcheller. "Both teams have improved and we know it's going to be a really physical battle right to the final buzzer."
The game will be available free of charge, as always, on NECFrontRow.com with live stats also available on BryantBulldogs.com.