LAKELAND - Florida Southern waited 361 days to extract its revenge on its rival Rollins as the top-seeded and third-ranked Moccasins rallied from a two goal second half deficit against the sixth-ranked and No. 2 seeded Tars here Sunday afternoon to post a thrilling 12-11 victory in the championship game of the 2016 Sunshine State Conference Tournament at Bryant Stadium.
Sunday's victory helped erase the memories of the Moccasins from last season's 12-10 overtime win by the Tars in the inaugural SSC Tournament Championship game, which was also held at Bryant Stadium on April 26, 2015.
"It definitely started to look like the exact same outcome as it was last year, but our girls kept fighting right up to the end," said Moccasin head coach Kara Reber following her team's 11th consecutive victory. "Our team's No. 1 goal this season was to win the conference tournament, so it was really exciting to see that everything they've done this season paid off today."
With Sunday's victory, the Mocs improve to 16-3 on the season and but solidified its opportunity to serve as one of two host schools for this year's NCAA Division II South Regional Tournament on May 13-14. The NCAA will unveil the 12 teams (6 per region) for this year's NCAA Women's Division II Lacrosse Tournament on May 8 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Rollins fell to 14-3 on the season with the loss.
After trailing 11-9 following a goal by Rollins' Tyler Thomas with 16:19 left in the game, the Mocs rallied to score three goals over a span of six minutes to turn an 11-9 deficit into a 12-11 lead.
Following Thomas' second goal of the game and 46th goal of the year, freshman attacker Casey O'Brien (Morris Plains, N.J.) brought the Mocs with a goal on a free position shot with 10:59 remaining in the contest.
A little over a minute later the Mocs tied the game on a goal by sophomore attacker Shannon Gilfedder (Longwood, Fla.). Gilfedder's goal tied the game at 11-all.
The Mocs would use another Gilfedder goal, this time off a free position shot, to take a 12-11 lead with 4:27 left in the game.
After Gilfedder's goal, the final four minutes was a frenzied affair that featured three turnovers and seven fouls and a combined five shots, which all came in the final 43 seconds of the contest, including four shots in a span of 17 seconds by the Tars. The final shot by Rollins' Kristina Coppolino with 26 seconds left was saved by Moccasin sophomore goalie Paige Brodbeck (Millersville, Md.) to seal the victory.
Brodbeck replaced junior starting goalie Taylor Gillis (Bel Air, Md.) a little more than five minutes into the second half and finished with nine saves and allowed just three goals to earn the victory in goal for the Mocs. Gillis allowed eight goals and had three saves in a little over 35 minutes of action.
"It was a really exciting game. We were down by two right near the end, but we were able to get back into the game and come up with some big plays and big goals at key times," Reber added. "It was really exciting to see."
It appeared early in the game that the Tars would run away with a win as after Gilfedder scored the game's first goal just about five minutes into the game, Rollins answered by scoring four conseuctive goals to push out to a 4-1 lead with 18:55 left in the opening half.
The Mocs, though, answered with five consecutive goals to take a 6-4 lead with 2:57 left in the first half.
Senior attacker Ashley Robertson (Ellicott City, Md.) got the scoring started on a free position shot with 15:18 left in the half. Sophomore attacker Cayla Shawfield (Oviedo, Fla.) would score off an assist by freshman attacker Dani Bursinger (Powell, Ohio) to pull the Mocs with 4-3 with 13:38 remaining.
Robertson, who was one of five Mocs named the SSC All-Tournament Team, tied the game at 4-all following another free position shot with 12:21 left in the period.
Junior attacker Kendall Kerge (Edgewater, Md.) would then get into the scoring action as she scored her 49th goal of the season with 9:30 left in the first half to give the Mocs a 5-4 lead. O'Brien would then give the Mocs a 6-4 lead following her goal off a pass from freshman defender Kelsey O'Connor (West Babylon, N.Y.) with 2:57 remaining in the half. The assist by O'Connor was the first of her collegiate career.
The Tars, though, would answer O'Brien's goal 34 seconds later as Paige Brock scored an unassisted goal to drop the Mocs lead to 6-5. FSC would cap the first half scoring on a free position goal by Kerge with 1:10 left to give the Mocs a 7-5 lead at the half.
Early on the game, the Moccasin offense had to adjust to playing without sophomore attacker Meghan O'Brien (Rochester, N.Y.), who is the table setter for the Mocs offense as she entered the game leading the SSC in both assists (36) and points (62). For the game, Meghan O'Brien was held without an assist for just the third time this season and first time since the Hamilton game on March 17.
"They (Rollins) face-guarded her (O'Brien) to take her out of the game, so we then decided to play 6-on-6," the Moccasin coach said.
The Tars would open the second half with an unassisted goal by Brock to pull within 7-6, but 34 seconds after Brock's goal, Kerge found the goal for the third time in the game to give the Mocs an 8-6 lead just a little over two-plus minutes into the second half.
Rollins, though, wouldn't go away as Emily Eddowes and Grayson McPhee scored goals, the latter one was unassisted to tie the game at 8-all with 24:29 left in the game.
Kerge would answer with her fourth goal of the game, her 52nd goal of the season and 12th goal of the tournament about two minutes later to give the Mocs a 9-8 lead. For her efforts, Kerge, who scored a school and SSC Tournament record eight goals in Friday's semifinal win over Tampa, finished the SSC Tournament with 12 goals en route to being named the SSC Tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
The Tars would bounce back following Kerge's goal as back-to-back unassisted goals from Coppolino and Kallie German gave Rollins a 10-9 lead with 16:33 left.
Thomas would then score the Tars' 11th goal of the game just 14 seconds after German's score to give Rollins an 11-9 lead with a little over 16 minutes remaining in the game.
In addition to Kerge's four goals, Gilfedder added a career-high tying three goals, while Robertson and Casey O'Brien each had two goals in the win. Brock and Coppolino each had three goals for the Tars, while Thomas added two goals in the loss.
For the game, Rollins held a 29-25 edge in shots and shots on goal (23-18) as Brock and Coppolino combined for 13 of Rollins' 29 shots. Kerge took 10 shots for the Mocs.
The Mocs won the battle of ground balls, 15-14 and also the draw control battle, 13-12, but lost the caused turnover battle, 14-13 as Thomas caused three turnovers and Moccasin senior defender Rachael Griffith (Bel Air, Md.) finished with three caused turnovers and added four ground balls.
Sunday's game featured a combined 58 fouls, 32 turnovers (16 apiece by each team) and a total of 16 free position shots as FSC was 5-for-9 on free position shots and Rollins was 2-for-7.
Rollins' Malorie Olin went the distance in goal for the Tars as she finished with six saves, one caused turnover and one ground ball.
Kerge and Robertson were joined on the All-Tournament Team by their Moccasin teammates, Bursinger, Santoli, Griffith, while Rollins had Thomas, Coppolino, Olin and Lindsey Van Beck selected. In addition, Tampa's Amanda Rom, Tampa's Caili Guilday, Florida Tech's Allie Modica and Florida Tech's Caroline Dunleavy rounded out the SSC All-Tournament Team.
Florida Southern will now have to wait a week for the NCAA to announce the selections for this year's Division II Women's Lacrosse Tournament. In this week's latest South Regional rankings, the Mocs were ranked No. 1, while Rollins was ranked No. 3 and is expected to also earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament this season.
Reber said she is excited her team will not have to travel for the NCAA Tournament this season. Last season, the Mocs earned the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and traveled to St. Charles, Mo., to play No. 3 seeded Lindenwood. Lindenwood defeated the Mocs in double overtime, 14-13.
"We're very excited to be able to stay right here and not travel for the NCAA Tournament this season and we're also excited to get a bye into the second round," the Mocs coach stated. "I'm hopeful we can continue to work on the things that we've been doing this season and pull out a win and advance in the NCAA Tournament."
The top two teams from each of two regions (North and South) will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament on May 13-14 with the host school earning a bye in the first round and advancing to the second round.