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Warriors complete undefeated Little East Conference season

MANSFIELD, Conn. – Tournament Most Outstanding Player Erin Calkins (Stony Brook, NY) made two saves in the final 48 seconds as the Warriors withstood a late Plymouth State University charge to post a 10-9 victory in the championship match of the 2007 Little East Conference women's lacrosse playoffs Saturday.

The win gives top-seeded Eastern (13-5) its second conference playoff championship and second NCAA tournament berth in three years and completes a perfect conference season. The Warriors won all six of their regular-season conference matches for the first time – besting second-seeded Plymouth (12-5), 9-8, in overtime April 7 – and both of their playoff games. Eastern and Plymouth have met in the championship game of five of six playoffs, Plymouth winning three times and Eastern twice.

Eastern won its first title under first-year head coach Christine Jeffrey, who recently completed her first season as head field hockey coach.

“Plymouth played hard the entire time when we played them the first time (in the regular season), and they weren’t going to give up,” noted Jeffrey. “We knew that we needed to play as a team (today). Plymouth has a good team but also has some very outstanding players, so we knew that we had to have our whole team working together in order to win.”

Eastern, which stopped Plymouth’s eight-game winning streak, scored the first three goals of the match and never trailed, but had to withstand Plymouth’s late-game bid to down the Panthers for the second time in three years in the final. All three of Plymouth’s losses in six years of LEC play have come at the hands of the Warriors.

Trailing 10-5 midway through the second half, Plymouth scored the final four goals of the match – two by senior midfielder Annie Pinault and two by senior midfielder Kelsey MacDonald – to pull to within a single goal with 11 minutes left in the match. Both teams forced numerous turnovers over the final 11 minutes, but Plymouth could not capitalize on its chances.

Kelsey MacDonald, a two-time conference Player-of-the-Year, was held off the board primarily through the efforts of Eastern senior All-America midfielder Kara Bradley (North Haven, CT) and senior defender Emily Constant (Franklin, CT), but had two goals and an assist in that final four-goal spurt. With Bradley serving a three-minute penalty, Kelsey MacDonald scored two of her goals in that run, which ultimately cut the gap to one.

Possessing the ball and nursing its one-goal lead, Eastern missed wide on a shot with just over a minute left, and the ball was scooped up by Pinault. The Panthers had three shots over the final minute after regaining that possession, but Calkins made two saves, and the other attempt was wide. After Calkins saved Kelsey MacDonald’s game-tying attempt with 47.3 seconds left, Plymouth maintained possession on the rebound, and Pinault was granted a free-position shot with 34.0 seconds left. That bid went wide, but the Warriors were called for a violation, giving Pinault another crack with 31.2 seconds left. On that shot, Calkins dropped to her knees to catch the ball in her stick, and was able to run out the clock.

Before the game, Jeffrey was concerned that the team might be too “ready” for the game, but her fears disappeared when the Warriors scored three quick goals.

“We had breakfast together, and they were, very, very excited,” pointed out the coach. “I was afraid that the intensity level might drop off when we got into the game, but it didn’t. The players wanted it. We had to re-focus a few times and get the team working together again, but they did really, really well. They just wanted the game.”

A senior, Calkins made 12 saves, three of them coming on free-position shots, to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. Calkins was last year’s ECAC New England Division III Goalie-of-the-Year. Plymouth junior goalie Suzie Lilakos, made five saves, four coming on 12 of Eastern’s first-half shots.

Senior attack Lily Anderson (Portland, ME) and junior attack Megan Gloster (Agawam, MA) each scored thre times for Estern, with Gloster also assisting on two goals. Sophomore defender Jackie Bivona (Middlebury, CT) had five ground balls, freshman Taylor MacDonald (Oak Bluffs, MA) four ground balls, three draw controls, and two caused turnovers. Bradley had two ground balls, caused three turnovers, and won a draw.

Pinault (four goals) and Kelsey MacDonald (three) combined for seven of their team’s nine goals, with senior midfielder Meg Cupoli assisting three times and winning four draws. Kelsey MacDonald, last year’s tournament MVP, won three ground balls and three draws.

Eastern had advanced to the final by drubbing fifth-seeded University of Southern Maine, 21-4, Thursday, while Plymouth reached their sixth straight final with a 10-2 win over No.3 Keene State. In two playoff matches, Calkins made 23 saves and posted a 6.50 goals-against average and .639 save percentage. Gloster (6), Anderson (6) and Bradley (5) combined 17 of the team’s 31 goals. MacDonald led the team with nine ground balls and eight draw controls, Bradley adding five ground balls, four caused turnovers, and three draw controls. As a team, the Warriors were successfly on 89.2 per cent of their clears (33-for-37), the opponent only 62.3 per cent (33-for-53). Calkins played a big part as Eastern’s two opponents missed ten of their 11 free-position shots while Eastern connected on five of eight.