ROCK HILL, S.C. – The fourth-seeded High Point University women’s lacrosse team put together an outstanding first half and held off top-seeded Winthrop for much of the game before ultimately falling to the Eagles, 11-10, on a late goal Friday in Big South semifinal action.
HPU scored the first six goals of the game and led 9-6 at the half, but Winthrop held the Panthers scoreless over the final 20 minutes of the contest to hang on for the win in Rock Hill.
“The first half was probably the most complete 40 minutes we’ve played all year and if we could’ve spread that level of play out over the full game we would’ve won,” head coach Lyndsey Boswell said. “I couldn’t be prouder of our overall effort, especially on the defensive end. Julia Burns was unbelievable to start the game and gave us so much momentum going into the offensive end of the field. Our defense was extremely solid today.”
It was a tale of two halves for the Panthers, as HPU split the draw control (8-8) and ground ball battles (8-8) and tied Winthrop in shots (10-10) in the opening half. But the Eagles won five of six draws in the second half and held advantages in ground balls (10-4) and shots (13-5).
Sophomore attack Samantha Brown shattered a career high for the second straight contest, as the Basking Ridge, N.J., native led the Panthers with a personal best seven points on four goals and a career-best three assists in the game. Brown averaged 6.0 points and 4.5 goals over HPU’s final two games of the season.
Junior Kristina Renner tallied two goals on the day and picked up four draw controls and caused three turnovers to lead the HPU midfield. She ends the season with 51 total draws, the most ever by a High Point University student-athlete.
Junior Leah Pace added a goal and an assist while junior Emily Meier also tallied a pair of points (1g, 1a) on the day. Senior Kendyl Gardner added a goal and finishes her career with the fourth-most goals in program history.
Burns made seven saves in a full 60 minutes of action. She ends her career with 292 saves, the most in program history and second most in the history of the Big South Conference.
HPU stormed out of the gate with a beautiful precision on both sides of the field. The Panthers forced turnovers on four of the first five Winthrop possessions, then moved the ball with a purpose on the offensive end. HPU assisted on its first six goals of the game and raced out to a 6-0 lead at the 12:50 mark of the first half.
Brown found Meier to open the scoring at the 24:13 mark, then Brown scored off a great feed from Pace with 23:20 to go in the opening stanza. Goals from Foard and Meier increased the edge to 4-0 10 minutes into the game, and a pair of meticulously placed low shots from Brown and Renner made it 6-0.
Winthrop responded with a 3-0 run to cut the HPU lead to 6-3 with 7:18 to play in the half, but a pair of goals from senior Kendyl Gardner and Brown pushed the lead back to five (8-3) with 3:32 left in the stanza.
Winthrop made it 8-5 with 28 seconds left in the period, and quick goals off the draw from both teams put the halftime score at 9-6.
The Eagles posted the first two goals of the second half to cut the HPU lead to 9-8 at the 25:53 mark of the period, but Pace put a fast break shot into the back of the net to put HPU back up two (10-8) with 20:32 to play. Winthrop scored a minute later, but from there, neither team could find the back of the net in a well-played 17 minutes of defensive lacrosse.
Winthrop finally scored with 2:09 to play to tie the score at 10-10, then posted the game-winning goal with 53 seconds to play.
HPU’s senior class of Abby Berrettone, Burns, Gardner, Katie McLaughlin, Stephanie Pazulski and Emilie Pugliese end their outstanding careers with three conference championships, two NCAA appearances and 47 collective wins as a group.
“This senior class is a special group,” Boswell said. “They’re walking away with three championship rings and that’s something a lot of athletes don’t accomplish in a lifetime. I’m so proud of what they’ve given to the program and we are going to miss them a great deal.”
HPU finishes the season with an 8-10 record, while Winthrop improves to 16-3. The Panthers will now embark on a busy offseason and prepare for a 2016 campaign in which 22 of 28 letter winners return for head coach Lyndsey Boswell.
“Our underclassmen have contributed so much to this program this year,” Boswell added. “They’ve worked really hard to catch up to the seniors and develop a comprehensive skill set. I’m looking forward to what they will bring to the program next season.”