Sports, Spring, Lacrosse

Eagles Fend Off No. 24 Trojans Behind Strong First Half

Last season, Boston College lacrosse traveled to Los Angeles and narrowly escaped with an overtime win over Southern California—the Eagles even needed a goal in the final two minutes of regulation to reach the extra period. So, on Friday afternoon, when No. 1 BC’s dynamic duo of Kenzie Kent and Sam Apuzzo worked screens to perfection to set up a wide-open goal four minutes into the second half to stretch a lead to six, it seemed as if similar late-game drama would be avoided.

Instead, the No. 24 Trojans went on a 5-1 run, cutting the Eagles’ lead to just two with 15 minutes left to play. USC’s defensive zone had stepped up impressively after being picked apart for eight first-half goals, and its attack had five different goal scorers. It seemed as if momentum was firmly in the visitors’ hands, with each successive goal prompting an even louder explosion from the Trojans bench and the remarkably large contingent of traveling fans.

Just as quickly as it seemed USC would be able to close the gap and pull off a monumental upset, though, BC’s resilience passed the test. Taylor Walker scored back-to-back free-position shots in a two-minute span, backup netminder Abbey Ngai stopped three of the Trojans’ final four shots on goal, and the Eagles ran their regular season winning streak to 25 games with a 12-9 victory.

“USC stepped up their game as we expected and they’re difficult to beat,” head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein said, before praising her team after playing two games in three days. “I was really proud of them. They were battling a little bit of fatigue, and I think they had some mental toughness there.”

Apuzzo and Kent both turned in seven-point days, with the former scoring a game-high five goals—her fifth game in a row with four or more goals. Kent, meanwhile, played the role of distributor to perfection, turning in her third straight six-assist performance as the lifeblood of the BC (6-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) offense.

“She’s got a knack for having the ball in her stick and being able to dish it off,” Walker-Weinstein said of the graduate attacker, who has taken just six shots the last two games but totaled 14 points. “I love the selflessness and the tenacity at the same time.”

The Eagles managed just 12 goals, their lowest total this season, but it wasn’t the product of a poor first half. BC had USC (3-1) on its heels for the first 20 minutes or so, staking out a 6-1 lead on the back of sustained offensive pressure. Cara Urbank got the Eagles on the board first, scoring off a feed from Apuzzo with five minutes gone off the clock, and emphatically threw her stick down and shouted “let’s go!”

And go they did, as Elizabeth Miller won the draw and 21 seconds later, Apuzzo had her first with an off-balance shot that beat Trojans keeper Riley Hertford. Apuzzo returned the favor with her second assist, finding a cutting Kent less than a minute later—a goal that prompted the graduate student to leap into a hug with her teammate.

USC had a quick answer to Kent’s finish, winning the draw control before Hope Anhut sliced through the Eagles defense to beat Ngai. BC responded with three straight goals, though, quickly re-exerting dominance on the scoreboard. Kent set up Urbank and Apuzzo, then Dempsey Arsenault found twine after spinning off contact near the crease and rifling one home.

BC managed to largely lock down the Trojans when it had time to get set, but a turnover from Brooke Troy with eight minutes left before the break set up a wide-open finish for Emily Concialdi. Kent intercepted a pass and found Apuzzo, as the duo singlehandedly beat an unassuming USC defense, then, with the shot clock down in single digits, Urbank scored an improbable goal while falling away from the net.

Rietano would turn the ball over with 14 seconds left to set up an Izzy McMahon breakaway goal on a 2-on-1 opportunity, but the Eagles still entered the half with a five-goal lead and seemed destined for an easy victory. BC’s defense had stood strong throughout, with all three goals coming after turnovers in the midfield and when the defense couldn’t get set.

Mistakes quickly crept in during the second half, however, as the same strong defense started to commit costly fouls. The Eagles gave up back-to-back free-position goals to Concialdi and McMahon, then allowed a third unanswered with the shot clock in single digits, as Kelsey Huff sliced in from the right and beat Ngai. Apuzzo would convert a free-position shot to stop the run, but it was all the offense that BC could get for prolonged stretches of time. USC’s zone was frustrating and denying Kent any chance to add on to her assist total, and the Trojans were starting to find more and more success on the other end.

After Katie Ramsey converted a free-position attempt and Kaeli Huff scored to pull USC within two with 16 minutes, the surprising thought of BC blowing a six-goal lead likely crept into the minds of many watching. Instead, Walker would score twice, and a goal with a minute left from Huff—after a nine-minute drought from both teams—was too little, too late.

The nine-minute scoring drought featured several notable saves from Ngai, a sophomore who finished with 12 saves just a day removed from an identical 12-save effort against Dartmouth. Playing in lieu of an ill Lauren Daly, Ngai was excellent, as the Eagles defense held a team tied for seventh in scoring offense (16.7 goals per game) to single digits.

“She’s just been preparing to be ready when her number is called,” Walker-Weinstein said. “She is ready and she’s doing a great job being a leader and a follower at the same time. She’s tremendous right now and has great focus and is really stepping up.”

BC’s lengthy regular season run hasn’t been without challenges. The end of last year featured six consecutive wins against ranked opponents, and that’s a feat the Eagles will have to replicate in the coming weeks, with eight of the next nine games coming against top-25 opponents. If the second half resilience against a tough Trojans side is any indication, though, BC is well poised to keep the streak alive. Apuzzo leads the nation in goals, Kent in assists, and even with a backup goaltender in, the Eagles still have the defensive ability to contain a formidable attack.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

March 1, 2019

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