College Field Hockey
#1 Rider University 2, #4 Saint Francis (Pa.) 0
Northeast Conference Semifinals
LAWRENCEVILLE--For the 10th time in the last 12 seasons, the Rider University field hockey team will play for the Northeast Conference championship after defeating Saint Francis (Pa.) 2-0 on Friday afternoon at Ben Cohen Field on the Lawrenceville campus.
"This was a tough game," said head coach Lori Hussong, who was voted NEC Coach of the Year for the fourth time. "The longer Saint Francis (Pa.) stayed in the game, the more confidence they gained. It was an even match."
Freshman Eefje Kok (Berkel Enschot, Netherlands), who was about to be subbed out of the game, got Rider (18-1) on the board 9:48 into the game, taking a cross from sophomore Sandra Penas (Barcelona, Spain) for her ninth goal of the season to give the Broncs a 1-0 lead.
"That always seems to happen," Hussong said. "A lot of times, we have players at the table ready to sub in and the person who is about to come out scores. We got a little lucky there."
For Penas, the 2011 NEC Offensive Player of the Year, it was her ninth assist of the season.
Leading by one with less than 13 minutes left in the game, senior Megan Pisani (Plainsboro/West Windsor-Plainsboro North) tipped in a pass from senior Virginia Egusquiza (Getxo, Spain) for her 14th goal of the season and 51st of her Bronc career to give Rider a 2-0 lead.
For Egusquiza, Rider's all-time leading scorer and the NEC Player of the Year for the third year in a row, it was her 18th assist of the year.
"This was a tough game from the beginning," Pisani said. "We didn't play our best in the first half but battled through and we stepped up in the second half. When we play as a team, good things happen."
Senior goalie Rebecca Lotito (Oceanport/Shore Regional) did not have to make a save as Rider out-shot the Red Flash 27-2 and held a 15-2 penalty corner advantage. Lotito now has nine shutouts on the season and improved to 31-3 in her Rider career.
"They are big hitters up the field," Hussong said about the battle against the Red Flash. "Their goalie played outstanding and the game was closer than the shot totals indicated."
Saint Francis (Pa.) goalie Katelyn Vitali made 15 saves.
Rider defeated Saint Francis (Pa.) 2-0 on October 30 at Loretto, Pa. and Rider improved to 14-0 all-time against the Red Flash.
Today's win was the 14th straight for the Broncs, setting a Rider record and the Broncs improved to 16-0 all-time on the campus turf field that opened in 2010.
The 18 wins ties a Rider record set by the 2004 team that went 18-3 and won the NEC championship, advancing to the NCAA Play-In game.
Rider will meet second seed Monmouth in the finals on Saturday at noon. The Hawks defeated Quinnipiac 1-0 in the first semifinal on Friday.
The Broncs won at West Long Branch over the Hawks 3-2 on October 20. This is Monmouth's third year in a row in the championship game. Last season, Rider defeated the Hawks 1-0 on a goal by then freshman Alicia Govannicci (Springfield, Pa./Cardinal O'Hara) with 3:01 remaining in the game.
Monmouth defeated the Broncs 2-1 in overtime in the 2009 NEC semifinals.
"We are going to have to play more as a team against Monmouth," Hussong said. "We have to play together, that's the bottom line. We struggled a little bit in the first half today, watching the player with the ball and we cleaned it up a little bit in the final 35 minutes. We need better passing and communication. We have to work better together to move the ball up the field."
Rider has won six NEC regular season titles, including the last three in a row (2001, 2003, 2005,2009, 2010, 2011) and the Broncs have won four NEC tournament titles (2000, 2002, 2004, 2010).
"We are all there for each other," Pisani said about her teammates. "No matter if we aren't playing our best, we rally around each other to work together as a unit and that is a huge factor. Even when we don't have our 'A' game, we find a way to get it done and we did that today. It's an awesome feeling to be back in the championship. It is something that the senior class wants to accomplish each season and now we have to keep it going."
Rider has qualified for the four-team NEC playoffs all 12 seasons under Hussong and the Broncs are now 10-2 in the NEC semifinal round.
The winner of the championship Saturday will advance to play the winner of the Ivy League on Tuesday at 1pm.