The second-seeded Keene State College field hockey team received goals from four different people and went on to oust No. 3 seed Western Connecticut State University 4-2 on a rainy Thursday evening at Owl Athletic Complex to advance to the championship of the Little East Conference tournament for the ninth consecutive season.
Despite being thoroughly out-shot, Western Connecticut scored first and hung around the entire game thanks to stellar goaltending by Neve Manion, who made 15 saves. Nina Bruno finished with a goal and two assists for KSC, with her tally in the 45th minute proving to be the game-winner. She also registered 11 shots, landing nine on goal. Kelsey Roberts, Ally McCall, and Clara Hunkins also found the back of the cage for the Owls, who took both meetings from WestConn this season.
The Colonials were awarded three corners in the early going, and after the first two only resulted in one shot, which was blocked, they scored following the third in the eighth minute. Carly Matasavage began the play and fed it to the top of the circle, where it was stopped and fed by Lili Dickey to Morgan Matthews, who rifled a shot past Rachel Loseby for a 1-0 lead. The score came after Manion made three saves in the first five minutes to keep KSC off the board.
However, it did not take much longer for the aggressive Owls to break through and even the game, as Kayla Klein drove down the left side and fed the ball in front to Bruno, who drew Manion out of the goal and dished to Kelsey Roberts, who cashed in on the vacant cage to tie it at one at the 11:06 mark. Keene State did not stop there, and the home team took the lead in the final minute of the first quarter after Maggie Cahoon, of Keene, began a corner and passed the ball to McCall, whose blast put the Owls up 2-1 at 14:12. The home team had an 11-2 edge in shots in the opening 15 minutes, and that carried over into the second quarter, but Manion kept it just a one-goal game. The WestConn keeper twice stopped rapid-fire attempts from Roberts and Bruno, with both of those chances coming not even one minute apart, and finished the first half with 12 saves. KSC led 2-1 at the break, but had a 14-1 edge in shots on goal.
The Owls had a chance in the first 30 seconds of the second half, but Bruno was stopped, and the visitors tied the game just minutes later, as Matthews picked the ball up in the circle and fed it to Matasavage, who made it 2-2 just 4:13 in. It stayed what way for a while, with the Owls killing off a five-minute yellow card to keep it even, and then seeing their own penalty stroke in the 44th minute go wide. Bruno came through not even a minute later, though, as she capitalized on a loose ball at the top of the circle after KSC forced a turnover and made it 3-2 with 55 ticks left in the third.
Bruno played helper early in the fourth to help the Owls add an insurance goal. Keene State’s leading scorer gathered the ball in the middle after a rush down the right side and slid it over to Hunkins, who potted it for an insurance tally to make it 4-2 at 50:09. The Colonials pushed, forcing two saves from Loseby in the ensuing five minutes, but they could not make a dent in the deficit, including when they played the final 4:55 with the goalie pulled.
Loseby (13-6) made two saves to get the win for KSC. Manion fell to 14-5 after facing a season-high 19 shots.
Records: Keene State: 15-7; Western Connecticut: 15-5
Keene State has scored four goals in four of the last five games.
The win sends the Owls to their 19th LEC title game appearance. They are 14-4 in the previous 18.
KSC won the regular season meeting with WestConn 8-1 on Oct. 5 in Keene and has won all 17 matchups in the all-time series.
Keene State will travel to top-seeded Worcester State University for the Little East Tournament championship on Saturday at noon. The Lancers secured their spot with a 3-2 overtime win over No. 4 seed University of Southern Maine Thursday evening, recovering after watching a 2-0 lead vanish in the fourth quarter. Is is Worcester’s first LEC title game appearance. KSC took the regular season meeting over WSU 3-2 in overtime at Owl Athletic Complex on Oct. 23.
Western Connecticut’s season ends with a program record 15 victories.