KEENE, N.H. 11/4/11 – Led by first-half goals from senior forwards Niki Smith (Southwick, Mass.) and Elizabeth Coffin (Sugar Hill, N.H.), the Keene State College field hockey team held on for a 2-1 victory over the visiting Westfield State University Owls on Friday evening at Owl Athletic Complex.
With the win the KSC Owls (18-4) advance to the Little East Conference Championship game for the eighth time in the last nine years. They will face in-state rival Plymouth State University at Owl Athletic Complex at noon on Sunday. The Panthers advanced to the title tilt by defeating defending champion UMass Dartmouth in overtime on Friday afternoon.
Keene State wasted no time taking a hold of the contest's momentum, scoring just over five minutes into the game. Senior midfielder Aislynn Sherry (Rehoboth, Mass.) passed the ball to Smith from just outside the circle around a mess of Westfield (12-7) defenders. Smith found herself wide open in front of the in the middle of the circle and beat the visiting netminder for the 1-0 lead.
At the 21:16 mark, KSC extended their lead to 2-0, as junior forward Kalin Billert (Center Conway, N.H.) crossed a bouncing ball into the circle to find a wide open Coffin who one-timed it past the outstretched goalie.
Westfield State applied pressure before the end of the first half. With just over 11 minutes remaining, Jessi Gould (Canton, Mass.) ripped a shot from just inside the circle that KSC freshman goalie Caitlin Davino-Draper (Hanover, Mass.) pushed away with her pad. After a KSC foul inside the circle, Westfield State tried to capitalize on a penalty corner, as senior back Nicole Gagnon (Andover, Mass.) ripped a shot that Davino-Draper set aside. Off the rebound, sophomore forward Sarah Pliszka (Manchester, Conn.) looked to have a wide open goal, but Davino-Draper stopped the initial shot, and KSC senior defender Kerry Howe (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.) stopped another rebound by Pliszka for her seventh defensive save of the season to keep Westfield off the scoreboard at the 10:47 mark.
Westfield State netminder Amanda McCarthy (Franklin, Mass.), who finished the game with 10 saves and six coming in the second half, made two nice saves early in the half to keep the visiting Owls in the contest. KSC senior captain Jacki Benson (Hampstead, N.H.) had a shot turned away by McCarthy at the 31:37 mark of the second half and Howe had a rocket turned away off a penalty corner three minutes later that McCarthy kicked aside.
Gould and senior forward Jessica Donovan (Methuen, Mass.) almost put WSU on the board on their first corner of the contest, as Gould ripped a shot from the top of the circle that Donovan redirected just wide just over nine minutes into the second stanza.
With 2:52 left on the clock Westfield would finally break through, scoring off a corner as Gould would score off assists from junior forward Liz Hall (Southwick, Mass.) and Gagnon to cut the KSC lead in half at 2-1.
After the goal WSU would earn another penalty corner, but KSC was able to clear the ball out and run the clock out for the 2-1 victory.
KSC held the advantage in shots (17-8) and corners (8-5) in the semifinal victory.
Davino-Draper finished the contest with three saves in her 17th victory of the season, while McCarthy set aside 10 shots in the losing effort.
As always the Little East Conference Championship game will be broadcasted on the Courtyard Marriot Owl Media Network at www.keeneowls.com/broadcasts.