LAKELAND - Freshman attacker Casey O'Brien scored three goals, including two in the second half to help third-ranked and top-seeded Florida Southern hold off a pesky Rollins team here Saturday afternoon en route to posting an 8-5 victory over the seventh-ranked and fifth-seeded Tars in the second round of the NCAA Division II South Regional Tournament at Bryant Stadium.
The Moccasins now advance to the NCAA Division II National Semifinals for the first time in program history as they will take on fourth-ranked and No. 2 seeded Lindenwood on Thursday, May 19 at 1 p.m. Eastern at the Regency Athletic Complex on the campus of Metro State University in Denver, Colo.
This year's women's lacrosse national championships will be held in conjunction with the NCAA Division II Spring Sports Festival. Along with women's lacrosse, national champions will also be crowned in men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis and softball this coming week in Denver.
"I am really excited. We got taken out of the game a little bit as we like to go, go, go and they obviously held the ball a lot in the first half, so I give our defense a lot of credit for really just being patient and watching them hold the ball for that long," Moccasin head coach Kara Reber said following Saturday's 17th win of the season. "Offensively, we only had 14 shots in the game and ended up with eight goals. I'm really happy with our offensive production, because we never shoot just 14 times in a game."
The 14 shots were the fewest in a game for the Mocs since also taken 14 shots in a 9-8 home win over Limestone on March 12. In addition, the eight goals also snapped the Mocs four game streak of scoring at least 10 or more goals.
With the win, the Mocs improve to 17-3 overall, extended its school record win streak to 12 straight games and earned its third win in less than a month against the Tars, while Rollins ends the season with a 15-4 overall record. Saturday's win was also the Mocs first ever victory in the NCAA Tournament in school history in just the school's second-ever appearance in the tournament as they fell 14-13 in double overtime in last year's first round of the NCAA Tournament at Lindenwood.
The Mocs closed the regular season with a 15-6 win at Rollins pn April 21 to seal the Sunshine State Conference title and then posted a come-from-behind 12-11 win over the Tars on May 1 in the championship game of the SSC Tournament.
"We knew we could beat them again, it was how much of their game plan was going to be able to shut down what we needed to do. We were mentally prepared to play Rollins all week and I think that helped," Reber added.
"It is a mental game and with our seniors, it could be their last game, so you really have to play for them," said O'Brien, who is a native of Morris Plains, N.J. "I just wanted to give my 110 percent today."
The Mocs opened the game's scoring 43 seconds into the contest on an unassisted goal by Meghan O'Brien and pushed its lead to 2-0 about six minutes later on a free position goal by Santoli.
Rollins would get into the scoring column with a little under 12 minutes into the game on an unassisted goal by Grayson McPhee.
Following McPhee's goal, the two teams traded turnovers and then Rollins turned the next 13-plus minutes of the game into a stall fest as the Tars held the ball at the 30-yard line and tried to get the Mocs to come out and force the action, but the Mocs sat back as the minutes ticked away on the clock with very little action.
"They (Rollins) were trying to take us out of our game and see if we would bite and come out to them and give them an easier opportunity to score a goal," Reber said when asked about Rollins' stalling tactic.
Santoli said that the Mocs anticipated Rollins holding the ball in Saturday's game.
"We've seen them (Rollins) do that against us before so we had a little practice. We knew they'd try to slow the game like that and coach told us to be prepared for it," said Santoli. "We knew we had to stick to our defensive game plan and wait for them to turn the ball over and we were successful doing that."
Rollins' stall game didn't result in a score as Tyler Thomas committed a turnover on a stick check by freshman midfielder Sam Keesey (Bel Air, Md.) and about 91 seconds later following Thomas' miscue, Casey O'Brien scored her first goal off a pass from Santoli to give the Mocs a 3-1 lead at the half.
Meghan O'Brien gave the Mocs a 4-1 lead on her unassisted goal with 24:33 left in the game.
The Tars, though, would mount a comeback as McPhee added her second unassisted goal nearly two minutes after O'Brien's score to pull Rollins within two goals at 4-2.
Paige Brock's goal with 22:18 left in the game dropped the Mocs lead to 4-3. Casey O'Brien would score her second goal of the game with 14:18 remaining off a pass from sophomore attacker Shannon Gilfedder (Longwood, Fla.) to push the Mocs lead to 5-3.
Thomas would give the Tars their fourth goal of the game as she tallied an unassisted goal with 12:56 left in the game to pull within 5-4.
Casey O'Brien would then score her third goal of the game with 3:53 left in the game to give the Mocs a 6-4 lead. The goal came off an assist from junior attack Kendall Kerge (Edgewater, Fla.), who was held without a goal for the first time this season. Kerge came into the game needing just one score for her 100th career goal.
"We're not surprised by what Casey (O'Brien) has done this season, even though she doesn't start for us, because we start seven defenders on the field, she is our first person coming into the offensive end of the field. She is our secret little weapon," the Mocs coach said.
Rollins would respond to Casey O'Brien's goal with an unassisted goal by Claire Brock with two minutes left in the game to draw the Tars within a goal at 6-5.
Clinging to a one goal lead with under a minute to play, the Mocs would push its lead to 7-5 as Santoli scored on an empty-net goal with 34 seconds remaining and senior attacker Ashley Robertson (Ellicott City, Md.) added a goal on a free position shot with two seconds left to seal the scoring and the win for the Mocs.
Kerge, Santoli and Casey O'Brien each had three shots in the win, while Rollins, who finished with just 12 shots for the game, was paced by three shots from Brock.
Both teams finished with nine turnovers for the game and both teams recorded eight caused turnovers. Senior defender Gabby Barowski (Alexandria, Va.), Keesey and junior goalkeeper Taylor Gillis (Bel Air, Md.) each had two caused turnovers for the Mocs, while Barowski, Gillis and senior defender Rachael Griffith (Ellicott City, Md.) each had two ground balls for the Mocs.
FSC finished the game with an 11-8 edge in ground balls, while Rollins held a 9-5 edge on draw controls, including Paige Brock winning six of those nine draws. Santoli led the Mocs with three draw controls.
Gillis, who improved to 11-2 in goal on the year, finished with two saves and allowed five goals for the Mocs.
Rollins' Malorie Olin fell to 15-4 on the season with the loss in goal as she finished four saves, allowed eight goals and picked up two ground balls for the Tars.
Reber said that this year's team has been a special one to coach.
"I think this year more than ever we just have a great team that just gets along, a great team that works hard and again it is not one or two individuals that we're relying on to get the job done," Reber added. "As you saw today, our whole defense had to get the job done and offensively, anyone who got the opportunity they've got it done and today, it was Casey's (O'Brien) opportunity and she took advantage of it. This team really cares for each other so much and it is really exciting to be heading to the Final Four."
The Mocs will face a familiar foe next Thursday in Denver as they will meet Lindenwood for the second time this season and the fourth time since the beginning of last season. Earlier this season, the Mocs picked up a hard-fought 10-9 win on an unassisted goal by Meghan O'Brien in overtime in Lakeland.