Bulldogs claim first-ever NEC Tournament title, NCAA bid with 14-6 win over Wagner

Photo by DSPics.com
Photo by DSPics.com

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Sophomore All-NEC First Team attack Lauren Descalzo (Hauppauge, N.Y.) scored six goals and added an assist Sunday afternoon while senior second teamer Kimberley Sniffen (Redding, Conn.) added a hat trick of her own, leading the top-seeded Bryant University women's lacrosse team to a 14-6 victory over Wagner College to claim the program's first-ever Northeast Conference Tournament title and the league's automatic bid into the 2014 NCAA tournament.

"All season long, we've made this our goal to be here, and the girls have never faltered," said Bryant head coach Jill DePetris-Batcheller. "They've always believed this was how it was going to turn out, so I am so proud of them for staying true to Bryant lacrosse."

Descalzo's seven points and six goals both marked career highs for the NEC Tournament MVP, and she was joined on the all-tournament team by senior NEC Offensive Player of the Year Lisa Vendel (Sandy Hook, Conn.), senior attack and All-NEC First Teamer Haley Bloom (Hauppauge, N.Y.), and senior defender Lindsay Langella (Northport, N.Y.). Vendel finished the day with three points (1 goal, 2 assists) and the NEC Tournament with seven (4g, 3a), while Bloom scored twice Sunday and finished with nine points (6g, 3a). Descalzo's 11 total weekend points and 10 goals were both tournament highs.

"She's so unbelievably quick, but she's also someone who consistently does her job no matter what the circumstance," DePetris-Batcheller said of Descalzo. "She's the person on the attack that everyone on the outside looks to, and to be that key player for us all season long and not get caught up in the pressure is unbelievable for a sophomore."

The Seahawks (11-7) controlled the opening minutes of the game, but on just their second offensive possession, the Bulldogs (15-3) put themselves out in front, with Bloom finding Descalzo for a shot that bounced in past Wagner goalie Katie Ferraro.

A free position shot by Kimmy Tumolo three minutes later would even the score, but Sniffen and fellow senior midfielder Katherine Keckeisen (Danbury, Conn.) gave Bryant a quick 3-1 edge with less than seven minutes gone in the frame.

Descalzo netted her second of the day – this time off a pass from classmate Nicole Britton (Monmouth Beach, N.J.) – as the first half approached the midway point, and Keckeisen made it 5-1 in the Bulldogs' favor off her own free position tally with 14:28 to play before the break.

It would take another free position opportunity before Wagner got back on the scoreboard, this time with a tally from Taylor Pastore, but Sniffen put Bryant back up by four, 6-2, seconds later off the second assist of the day from Britton.

Pastore struck again with 5:50 remaining in the first, and Tumolo came streaking across the goalmouth for an open shot that beat senior Brianna Watt (Babylon, N.Y.) (7 saves) to close the gap to two, 6-4, with just over four minutes to play before the intermission.

With less than three minutes to go, Vendel outran a triple team to find Descalzo wide open in the middle for a one timer from the sophomore, but a yellow card on Bloom allowed Gretchen Fay to score a man-up marker seconds later to send the team's into the halftime break with a 7-5 margin favoring the Bulldogs.

Five minutes into the second, Bloom and Sniffen doubled that lead with tallies just one minute apart, 9-5. Tumolo completed her hat trick with 22:33 remaining in the stanza for a 9-6 score, but four-straight Bulldog goals would allow the top-seeded hosts to more than double up their opponents, 13-6, with less than 14 minutes to play in the championship bout.

"At halftime, we didn't even really talk about Xs and Os," said DePetris-Batcheller. "We just talked about owning it in our confidence and our composure, and that is exactly what they did. Anytime the ball came down on offense, our defense figured out a way to get a stop, and our offense captured the momentum at a lot of key points in the game and was able finish well.

"All season long, our attack has been able to show how dynamic we are," she continued. "And our defense stood strong all weekend, particularly the play of [senior] Lindsay Gilfeather. Lindsay has been a matchup defender for us all season, and this weekend, she held her matchups to zero goals all tournament, which is just amazing."

The four-goal Bryant stretch came from the sticks of Descalzo (2), Vendel and Bloom, and the sophomore attack would stay hot to give Bryant a 14-6 advantage with her sixth goal of the game with just 2:38 to play, sealing the Bulldogs' first-ever NEC Tournament Championship and completing their undefeated run through the Northeast Conference.

The Bulldogs will now await their tournament fate, which will be determined Sunday night in the NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Selection Show, airing at 9:00 p.m. on NCAA.com.

"We're excited to watch the selection show tonight together and continue on this awesome journey we've had so far," said DePetris-Batcheller.