The top-ranked Middlebury women’s lacrosse team earned a trip to the NCAA Semifinals for the fourth-straight season, as the Panthers utilized a strong first quarter Sunday on their way to a 12-7 victory over 12th-ranked Colby on Peter Kohn Field.
The Mules opened the scoring 2:37 into the stanza when Annie Eddy drove the right side and fired a shot inside the near post.
The Panthers knotted the contest exactly one minute later as Susan Rowley dodged a defender from the top of the arc, tucking a shot just under the crossbar.
Middlebury continued to ride that momentum, tallying five straight. Hope Shue posted a pair of markers during the run including a free-position bouncing tally, while Rowley added her second of the contest and Maggie Coughlin ended the spurt with a quick-stick shot with 1:36 left for a 6-1 advantage.
A goal by Caroline Messer from the right side of the crease, followed by a turnaround tally from Anna Spehr 1:20 later gave the Panthers an 8-1 edge with 11:44 remaining in the second quarter.
Colby turned the tide in its favor with three-consecutive goals over the remainder of the stanza. Elizabeth Hennessey closed the spurt with a quick-stick tally to make it an 8-4 game with 1:58 left before halftime.
The Mules had two chances to pull closer in the final minute, but Panther goalie Annie Enrietto denied a pair of point-blank shots to preserve Middlebury’s four-goal advantage (8-4).
In a low-scoring third quarter, Colby’s Julia Jardina slipped a free-position shot into the upper-right corner with 3:46 expired.
Caroline Messer pushed the advantage back to four (9-5) on a goal just 46 seconds later, while Ally Franz answered with a tally for the Mules into the lower-left corner to make it a 9-6 contest.
The fourth quarter saw Shue run across the crease and score into the bottom-right corner, while Rowley worked a give-and-go with Jane Earley to increase the lead to 11-6 with 9:05 left.
A bouncing shot by Franz found the left side of the nylon just 34 seconds later, but a goal from Coughlin on the right side made it 12-7 with 6:15 remaining.
Enrietto and the Panther defense locked down in the final minutes, forcing two Mule turnovers and limiting the visitors to one shot that the goalie saved for the final 12-7 score.
Earley tied her career high in the victory with four assists. With her five-point effort, she moved into second place in the single-season record books with 97 points. Earley’s 67 goals this season rank third on the single-season list.
Enrietto moves to 37-0 all-time in front of the Middlebury goal.
The Panthers won their 26th-straight game and improved to a perfect 21-0 record this season.
Sunday’s contest marked the third meeting this year between the programs, with Middlebury winning all three. The Panthers and Colby also played in last spring’s regional final with Middlebury earning a 12-2 victory.
The Panthers take on No. 8 Franklin & Marshall in an NCAA Semifinal on Friday at 12 p.m. in Salem, Virginia with a trip to the national championship on the line.
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