Field Hockey: Patriot League Tournament Wrap-up and NCAA Tournament Preview

By: Alex Smith

Tournament Wrap

The Terriers closed the book on a perfect conference record this season, eeking out a pair of one goal victories to secure their second consecutive NCAA tournament berth.

Saturday’s championship tilt was a tense affair, as unlike Friday’s semifinal games, both sides saw their scoring chances limited in BU’s 2-1 win. Most of the game took place in between the halfway line and American’s 25, as the Terriers controlled most of the possession but the Eagles remained resolute in defending their area.

In the end, Grace Boston proved my pre game predictions right, and she nearly put the Terriers ahead just six minutes in. Patriot League keeper of the year Kate McBeath was forced into a great save as Boston nearly crammed in a centering pass from Hester van der Laan.

It was Boston eleven minutes later who did tally the Terriers’ first goal, getting on the end of a beautiful team move that was undoubtedly one of #14 BU’s finest goals of the season. Sofi Laurito launched the attack inside BU’s 25, lofting a perfect overhead for Taylor Blood, who showed great skill in spinning to deaden the pass, taking it in stride and motoring upfield.

Blood cut inside past one, then two, making a run with the ball that demanded the attention of the entire Eagle defense. She slowed down for a moment, drawing in two American defenders as Amanda Cassera and Boston streaked forward in support. Blood then found her junior frontline partner, scooping a pass through a crowd to Cassera. Without looking up, Cassera took a touch and rolled the ball to the back post, sensing Boston’s run. Boston was left with a simple finish, and though she struggled to finish off chances against Bucknell, the sophomore needed only one touch to redirect the ball into the cage.

Boston’s strike for Boston University sampled the best of what the team, and the sport, has to offer. A trio of perfect passes, one lofted, one bounced, and one rolled, were utilized by the Terriers to traverse the field, and Taylor Blood showed phenomenal individual skill not only in getting past several defenders, but also in keeping American’s focus on her as the rest of the Terriers’ forward line broke forward.

Cassera, too, showed phenomenal poise and unselfishness, and the scorer of 14 goals just a season ago could have easily attempted to finish off the move herself. Instead, she rolled it perfectly for Grace Boston, who had done the hard work getting herself into that position and was left with an easy finish.

Add in Blood’s exceptional control of Laurito’s overhead, and you can begin to grasp why you are currently reading the 5th paragraph about BU’s first goal. It really was that special, and the way it contrasted with Laurito’s trio of solo efforts just a day prior made it an even sweeter sight.

The Terriers dominated the remainder of the first half, and nine minutes later found their second, game winning goal through an unlikely hero. A loose pass off of American’s attempt to break through the Terrier press went straight to van der Laan, who collected and found Laurito on the edge of the circle. The senior quickly drilled a shot towards the middle of the cage, which McBeath was able to beat away with relative ease. The rebound fell kindly for Sara Martineau, who gathered her composure for a moment and flung the ball toward goalward past McBeath from a tight angle.

Her clinical finish would prove the difference at New Balance Field, as neither team created much in the second half. American did get one back late via a bizarre goal. An extended period of Eagle possession with 18 minutes gone in the second half resulted in a bouncing ball sent into the area by Natalie Marsh, and Natalie Konerth raised her stick high to deflect it over Cammy Jensen and into the cage.

The Terriers quickly surrounded the officials to voice their complaints, as the ball had bounced up and over several BU defenders, which would typically constitute dangerous play. The goal would stand though, and the Terriers were forced to defend with renewed intensity in the last few minutes of the game.

Jensen produced the most important save of her career with just under 7 to play, as Rafaela Rubas’ slick dribbles found her a sliver of space in the area to flick one goalward. Jensen reached to her left and saved the potential tying tally, and the Terriers successfully whittled away time for the remainder of the contest, securing the 2-1 win.

It was the second Patriot League Title in as many years for Sally Starr’s Terriers, who earned the right to host an NCAA tournament play in game against MAAC champions Fairfield.

Fairfield (9-9) have had a bizarre season, going 3-6 at home but 5-3 on the road. They qualified for the postseason with a 3-3 conference record, and pulled off back to back upsets to en route to a MAAC title, after switching from the America East conference this season. Their debut title gave them an automatic bid to the tournament.

Preview/Prediction

I’ll admit it: getting to wear the headset and going the play by play for the tournament this weekend was the most exciting part of my school year so far. Being on the call for all three games of fast paced, frantic postseason field hockey was phenomenal, and between penalty corners, free hits, dangerous play, Laurito dangles and interviews with Coach Starr is was an almost overwhelmingly amazing experience for me.

That being said, I’m even more excited to broadcast a Division 1 postseason NCAA tournament game.

The Terriers are coming off a pair of nervy wins, after losing their season finale. However, they played phenomenally against Bucknell, outshooting the Bison 21-4. In the championship, and American’s goal should have been disallowed, which would have given the defense a 2-0 shutout. Riding into the tournament, several Terriers are playing their best hockey the season.

Laurito, of course, led the way for BU in Friday’s win, and Grace Boston and Taylor Blood stood out to me in both of BU’s games, especially in the championship. I have UNC on upset alert as I think field hockey nation is about to meet Sofi Laurito.

There isn’t any reason to think #14 BU will be challenged by Fairfield. The Stags’ RPI rank of 53 make them the lowest rated team in the tournament. Bucknell and American rank 39th and 30th respectively, to give you an idea of what kind of opponents BU faced to get here.

I’ll predict a 5-0 win, and I don’t think the Terriers will be phased by the added intensity of an NCAA tournament game. It will be the third postseason matchup they have hosted, and this season Fairfield dropped a game 4-0 to a Harvard team that BU dominated.  

A brace from Laurito, Taylor Blood, Cassera and Grace Boston to get on the scoresheet for BU, though I also have to throw out there the outstanding work that Hester van der Laan did in the tournament for BU.

 

The game can be seen at 1 p.m. on the Patriot League Network, and I’ll be on the call along with the esteemed James Mattone.

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