The light bulbs on the scoreboard formed a score many Penn State field hockey players will never forget — 5-2, Syracuse.
It was an almost surreal score to look at for the No. 3 Penn State field hockey team. Yet as the team walked off the field on Sunday, several players’ gazes remained transfixed on the scoreboard.
Behind by three, and zero minutes remaining.
The Nittany Lions fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, losing to a strong No. 5 Syracuse team that took advantage of the Lions’ inconsistent play throughout the game.
The Lions, despite hard and gritty play overall, were done in by stretches of poor defense, especially in the first half, and missed momentum shifting opportunities off penalty corners in the second.
“Our kids played really, really hard, and we had an awesome second half,” head coach Charlene Morett said. “It was just a shame… I was afraid of where we had all that momentum going, and then they were able to come back.”
The first half belonged almost entirely to Syracuse, as the Lions struggled to keep the ball in consistent rhythm. The Orange maneuvered the ball in strong fashion about the field, creating several good scoring opportunities.
The Lions found themselves frantically trying to defend at times as the Orange sent passes towards the middle of the offensive zone, often finding teammates in opportune striking positions.
Syracuse ended up with four penalty corners and out-shot the Lions 12-8 in the first half, aiding them in grabbing the early two-goal advantage and sending the Lions into the break down, 2-0.
“We gave up too many corners. Too many corners,” Morett said. “They [Syracuse] are a good corner team. [Penn State goalkeeper Ayla Halus] kept us in the game.”
But despite the poor defensive showing in the first half, the Lions rallied somewhat coming out of the break, producing several penalty corners in a short time frame to start the half.
The offensive onslaught was repelled, though, as the Lions were frustratingly kept off the board by goalkeeper Leann Stiver and found themselves unable to seize momentum away from the Orange.
“We had some great chances from the beginning of the game even,” Morett said. “But we weren’t finding that next pass to go up and finish.”
The Lions ended up with 11 penalty corners in the second half, giving them a total of 15 on the game.
“Fifteen penalties. Ridiculous.” Morett said. “And I thought we were getting shots on goal, too, which is the most important thing. We tried every penalty corner that we knew out there today, and it was just a matter of their goalie making some great saves.”
Whitney Reddig did manage to cut the lead to 2-1 with only 17 minutes remaining, giving the Lions a small hope of getting back into the game. But Syracuse rebounded quickly, sending three goals past Penn State’s defense in only 11 minutes to run away with the game.
The Lions will rue their missed opportunities to score and regret their inability to contain Syracuse’s offense as their season comes to an end. Although Big Ten tournament and regular season champions, the Lions had aspirations of hopefully making it to the national semifinals this season.
They were one game away.
“I just thanked these girls for the time they put in,” Morett said. “Especially these seniors. They were great leaders out there today.”