For much of the season, Sarah Dwyer has anchored a lockdown Boston College field hockey defense. Going into the Eagles’ NCAA Tournament quarterfinal against No. 4 Louisville, the senior had started 12 games in a row, and conceded just eight goals. BC won 10 of those games, with the only two losses coming against No. 1 North Carolina. And with the Eagles on the ropes against the Cardinals, who spent most of the day pouring the pressure on BC’s back line, it was fittingly Dwyer who delivered in the biggest way with the Eagles’ season on the line.
The Long Branch, N.J., native made seven saves in regulation before coming up with a game-winning stop in the seventh round of a penalty shootout, helping BC squeak by Louisville, 1-1 (5-4 penalties), and advance to its first-ever Final Four in program history.
Dwyer conceded a goal in the third quarter, but was otherwise unbeatable against a Cardinals attack that created chance after chance against the Eagles’ (15-7, 4-2 Atlantic Coast) back line.
Louisville (16-6, 3-3) enjoyed the edge from the get-go, utilizing a high press to break up BC’s passing and win three early penalty corners. The Eagles’ defense held strong in the early going, though, and Dwyer made an important save on a shot from Bethany Russ.
It was Russ that came up with Louisville’s only score of the game. With five minutes played in the third quarter, the senior—who led the Cardinals with 10 goals in the regular season—cut to her left just inside the circle and unleashed a laser of a backhand shot that snuck by Dwyer at the near post to tie the game at 1-1.
That score offset BC’s only goal of the game, which came with just six seconds left in the first half. The Eagles won a penalty corner, and the insertion was played to Sky Caron. The sophomore defender hit a low shot that was blocked initially, but the rebound trickled to Elizabeth Warner, who was in perfect position at the right post. With Louisville goaltender Hollyn Barr taken out of position by the deflection, Warner—who also scored BC’s game-winner against Northwestern in the first round of the tournament Friday—was left with the simplest of tap-ins and converted to put the Eagles up, 1-0, at the break.
The rest of the way, though, it was Dwyer practically carrying BC on her back. For much of the second half, the Cardinals’ energy and aggression left them camped in Eagles territory. In fact, BC didn’t register a single shot in the third or fourth quarters.
But Dwyer stuffed an attempt off a penalty corner from Carter Ayars at point-blank range and used her left leg pad to block a shot from Mercedes Pastor with just four minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Somehow, despite being out-shot, 7-0, in the second half and conceding four penalty corners, the Eagles had survived to force overtime.
The extra periods, which reduced the numbers to 7-on-7, didn’t give BC a moment of respite. Just 87 seconds into the first overtime, Russ nearly scored the game-winner but found herself stonewalled by Dwyer, who incredibly stretched out her left foot to kick a low attempt just wide.
Pastor—who frustrated Eagles defenders with her quick stick skills all afternoon long—and Emilia Kaczmarczyk also couldn’t find the back of the cage. BC actually had a chance to win the game with just 10 seconds remaining in the final overtime period after good stick work from Margo Carlin, but Jaime Natale’s shot agonizingly bounced off the left post, sending the match to a dramatic penalty shootout.
In shootouts, teams each take five shots. Attackers start from the 23-meter line, and have eight seconds to get a shot off, while goaltenders are allowed to move off their line whenever they wish. Louisville kicked things off and scored on its first two shots, while Barr saved an effort from Natale before Carlin got the Eagles on the board. Dwyer stopped Russ not once, but twice after the first try was whistled for a re-do, and Caron slotted home to knot the shootout at two.
After Dwyer stuffed Pastor in the fifth round to move the shootout into sudden death, the teams traded a make each, before Carlin once again converted in round seven. Needing a save to advance to the Final Four, Dwyer came through one last time, deflecting a backhand effort over the bar before being swarmed by a crowd of BC players in celebration.
The dramatic game, one in which the Eagles were arguably outplayed, resulted in the biggest win in program history. For the first time, BC is headed to the Final Four, and that’s even more impressive considering the Eagles were just 4-5 just six weeks ago. Since then, BC has improved dramatically on both ends, and has only lost twice. Fittingly, the Eagles will get a crack at the team that handed them those two losses in the Final Four: Undefeated and top-ranked UNC. BC will once again be the underdog, but the Eagles keep finding ways to win, and will undoubtedly relish the opportunity to exact revenge on the Tar Heels on the sport’s biggest stage.
Featured Image Courtesy of BC Athletics