Field Hockey Falls 4-3 in Overtime to Michigan in Semifinals
Nov. 5, 2010
EVANSTON, Ill. - Playing with steadfast determination and a never-say-die attitude, the No. 8 ranked Penn State field hockey team gave No. 11 Michigan all that it could handle but eventually succumbed to the Wolverines by a slim 4-3 margin during an overtime grudge match in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament at Northwestern's Lakeside Field on a chilly Friday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions fought from behind early and withstood an aggressive Michigan attack to force overtime in the playoff thriller. Unfortunately, despite Penn State's best efforts, the Wolverines (14-6) landed the final blow as Rachael Mack completed a hat-trick with the game-winning goal just over four minutes into the extra session.
During the contest, Alex Schlener, Hannah Allison, and Kelsey Amy all scored for PSU (14-5). Brittany Grzywacz also recorded her team-high third defensive save on a clutch play in the first half, while first-team All-Big Ten goalie Ayla Halus posted seven saves against the unrelenting Wolverine offense.
"I give our kids a lot of credit for the way they played," said head coach Charlene Morett. "It was a very intense, physical game, and I think our kids played with a lot of determination and heart. Hopefully it will get us ready for the NCAAs."
With the game tied at two less than 10 minutes before the end of regulation, Penn State broke through with a crucial score. After holding off Michigan for five minutes while playing 11-on-10 following a yellow card, the Nittany Lions returned to full strength and quickly took advantage of the situation.
In the 64th minute of action, PSU earned a penalty corner. Although the team's initial shot was blocked by the Wolverine defense, the ball ricocheted to Amy. From 10 yards out, she collected the rebound and uncorked one of her patented blasts that eased into the goal and broke the tie.
After sustaining a blow, Michigan wasted no time responding. Just over three minutes after Amy broke the tie, the Wolverines knotted the game again. After Michelle Roberts settled in with the ball outside the Penn State zone, she launched a laser towards the cage. Without hesitating, Mack dove towards the ball and deflected it just enough to find an opening that evened the score with under three minutes left in regulation.
With momentum on their side, the Wolverines had one final opportunity to end the game in regulation. After earning a corner as the final seconds ticked off the clock, Michigan unloaded a shot that sailed just wide to force the overtime period.
Following a break, the Penn State defense came out strong in the extra session. Although Michigan had a few early opportunities, Schlener blocked one attempt and Daneen Zug made a pair of great plays. After she cut off an initial attacker and cleared the zone, Zug came back with another crucial play on a bouncing ball. The last line of defense between the Wolverines and a breakaway opportunity, the senior back corralled a tough hop and broke up the play.
Despite the stingy defense, Michigan kept coming. Eventually, Alicia Mayer found an opening and ripped a clean shot that Halus stopped with an incredible diving play. Unfortunately for the Lions, the ball bounced away and found its way back to Mack, who had settled in on the right side of the cage. Although Halus did her best to regain her footing and get back in position, Mack ripped a shot that clinched the 4-3 victory for the Wolverines at the 74:08 mark.
"I thought it was a real exciting field hockey game," said Morett. "I think, obviously, there were a lot of momentum shifts in the game. I felt that it was great for us to come from behind. We haven't done that all year, and to come from behind and take the lead with five minutes left and not be able to finish it off, that's very disappointing."
Although the score ended in Michigan's favor, Penn State played an incredible game throughout the day. From the start, the Penn State defense held up against an aggressive attack. Following an early back-and-forth battle, the Wolverines had a few opportunities that were denied by two great saves from Halus.
Later, as Michigan continued to press, Penn State attempted to clear the zone with a long pass. On the play, Mack cut in and intercepted the ball near midfield. With some room to maneuver, she broke towards the cage, beat a pair of defenders, and had a clean look as she flipped a shot past Halus to give Michigan a 1-0 advantage.
Trailing by one, the Penn State defense had to withstand another surge to keep the Wolverines at bay. Mack had another opportunity to light up the scoreboard but could not quite handle a pass in front of the cage. Then, Halus made a phenomenal kick save on a shot before Grzywacz stifled the next attempt with an outstanding defensive save that cleared the zone.
Following two more Michigan shots, including one that Halus stoned again, the Penn State offense regained its footing. As time was running down in the first half, the Nittany Lions earned a penalty corner. After an initial shot by Amy was kicked by a Wolverine defender, the squad earned a second corner with no time left on the clock.
With one final play before halftime, Amy cranked another shot that was set aside by Michigan's Christi Barwick. Although Penn State's initial attempt was stopped, Schlener kept hustling. Eventually, the sophomore back corralled the ricochet and unloaded another shot that found an opening and evened the score entering halftime.
After holding a 10-5 edge in shots during the first half, Michigan wasted little time getting back on the attack after the intermission. Following the break, the Wolverines got the first clean look to break the tie. Paige Laytos settled at the top of the arc, took control of a pass, and fired a high rocket at the cage. Refusing to let-up, Halus made an exceptional out-stretched save to keep the game deadlocked at one.
Following the defensive stand, Penn State went back on the attack. After the Lions pushed the ball into the Michigan zone, the Wolverines attempted to clear. On the play, a collision allowed the ball to trickle out to the top of the circle where Hannah Allison had settled. Instinctively, she quickly ripped a backhand shot that found daylight and gave PSU its first lead of the game just six minutes into the second period.
With their lead gone, the Wolverines responded. Just four minutes later, Michigan earned a penalty corner. On the play, Mack took the initial pass and pushed it towards the cage where Vanessa Sekhon redirected the ball into an opening that knotted the game at two with 15 minutes remaining in regulation.
After that point, the two teams continued to trade blows in the back-and-forth battle. Amy's late goal was matched by Mack's second in the waning moments of the game. Although the teams were evenly matched throughout the 70 minutes of regulation, Michigan eventually put an end to the contest in the extra session as the team collected its fifth overtime victory of the season.
Despite the setback, Penn State now awaits word on a possible at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament. With an excellent resume highlighted by four victories over ranked opponents, the Nittany Lions have a strong case to continue their season next weekend in the national tournament. The final bracket will be announced during a web streamed selection show on the NCAA website at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.