FH : Hess keeps it closer but Orange falls to UConn again
Late in Saturday’s Big East semifinal match against No. 4 Connecticut, the Orange was losing by only one goal when UConn’s star senior Lizzy Peijs was ejected from the game with a yellow card. For a moment, it looked as though SU’s fate would turn with the team and the crowd finding renewed vigor.
SU’s junior goal keeper Heather Hess played a brilliant game, keeping the Connecticut lead to only one goal, in a game which the Orange had almost no offensive presence. And with more than 10 minutes to play, Syracuse found itself with a one-player advantage and down only 1-0.
But the excitement did not last long. Two minutes after the UConn card, Syracuse freshman Shelby Schraden received a yellow card of her own, evening the sides once again. Then UConn erased any remaining hopes for an SU comeback when sophomore Katie Semanoff scored her second unassisted goal on a fast break with only two minutes remaining in the game.
Syracuse lost in the Big East semifinal game, 2-0, to No. 1 seed Connecticut Saturday at Coyne Field, ending one of the program’s best seasons. UConn went on to win its fourth consecutive Big East Championship and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament Sunday by beating Providence, 1-0.
SU’s Saturday loss was its second loss to the Huskies in just under two weeks. The two teams met Oct. 21 also at Coyne Field, and Connecticut won that game, 5-2.
Saturday’s game was much like the teams’ previous matchup this season, with the Orange producing basically no offense. On Sunday, SU managed to fire only two shots and earn four corner opportunities. But unlike the last game, Syracuse held the Huskies to only two goals even though it allowed 22 shots-on-cage.
The difference in keeping it closer was Hess’ goalkeeping, recording 10 saves and breaking up plays where the SU defense struggled to clear the ball. And her play was noticed by Connecticut’s head coach Nancy Stevens.
‘I think the biggest difference was the play of the goalkeeper,’ Stevens said. ‘I thought Heather Hess was out of this world today. I have always felt she was one of the best goalkeepers in the conference, and I think she showed that today.’
Despite the Orange’s poor offensive numbers, it made significant improvements from the last matchup, forcing Connecticut to take shots from poor angles and keeping the players out of position.
‘I think we had them scrambling,’ SU head coach Ange Bradley said. ‘I know statistically they did dominate us, but you got to walk away, and I am really proud of our kids.’
But at the beginning of the game, things looked a little different. Connecticut stormed out of the gate, netting the first goal of the game when Semanoff put one in the cage five minutes into the contest. The Orange could not respond as it only had one shot during the rest of the half.
UConn’s coach Stevens said her team’s talent enabled it to be successful even as SU made adjustments.
‘I think we have a talented offensive unit with great team speed,’ Stevens said. ‘We were able to fast break today very well. I think it’s that Syracuse plays to outscore you, they push a lot of people forward and we were quick enough to counter and take advantage of that.’
An opportunity for SU to score came midway through the first half when the Orange were able to force a corner opportunity, but freshman Maggie Befort misplayed the in-bounding pass.
While the offense struggled to produce shots and corners, Hess and the defense kept Connecticut from earning another goal until the final minutes of the game. Until then, both teams pushed and hit each other, chasing down loose balls and the physical play led to the late-game ejections.
‘I feel like we can walk away feeling that we made Connecticut make a lot of adjustments during the game,’ Bradley said ‘Their player of the year (Peijs) was put out of the game with a yellow card. She was very frustrated, and that’s a sign of Shelby Schraden and Jessica Lerew playing a great defensive game against her.’
Even with the disappointing end to the season, Syracuse saw the season as a whole as a step in the right direction. There is hope for the future with a host of talented freshmen like Schraden and Befort, and with junior Hess coming back next year. And those young players are aware of it.
‘Syracuse hockey has a presence now in the field hockey world,’ Befort said. ‘And we’re going to come out next year on top.’
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