Zoe Belodeau the hero as Penn tops Penn State in wild 2OT thriller

Originally published at College Crosse

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Shadows crept across the LaValle Stadium field, as the game prolonged from mid-afternoon to evening. The grueling NCAA Tournament battle was deep in the second overtime. It was exhausting to just watch.

But somehow Penn sophomore goalie Mikaila Cheeseman was focused as ever. When Katie O’Donnell, Penn State’s star, raced toward the cage with 46 seconds to play in double-OT, Cheeseman was up for the task.

Throughout the week of prep, Cheeseman studied O’Donnell, the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year. She watched her release, her tendencies, her footwork.

With the game on the line, Cheeseman stabbed her stick to her left and saved the shot, her 13th of the game. But more importantly, she saved her team’s season.

“Every time she makes a save, I just stand there like ‘oh my God, she just did that,’” Penn freshman Zoe Belodeau said. “Then it takes me like five seconds to realize, ‘oh. It’s coming back now. I need to play offense.’”

Once Penn took offense, the Quakers called timeout and head coach Karin Corbett designed a play for Belodeau to become the hero. With 1.8 seconds left in double-OT, the first-year phenom sniped the biggest goal of her lacrosse life. Penn defeated Penn State, 15 to 14.

“She’s come through in every game for us,” Corbett said.

Belodeau’s golden goal was her fifth of the day and the 43rd of her freshman season. She passed the freshman goal total of another lefty who dazzles at LaValle Stadium. Make no mistake. On this day, Zoe Belodeau — from the game-winner, her ridiculous behind-the-back tally, even the eyeblack dripping from her cheek — seemed to mirror the superstar who calls the stadium her own: Kylie Ohlmiller.

Ohlmiller and the Seawolves sat in the background of Friday’s lacrosse showdown, scouting their next opponent from the far-side bleachers. Penn will play Stony Brook on Sunday at 12 p.m. Stony Brook is controversially ranked as a No. 5 seed in the tournament (Corbett thought that seeding was unfair to the Seawolves), but alas, the two schools have never met, and the Quakers are excited for an opportunity for the upset.

“I know they’re incredibly talented and can do some crazy things you’ve never seen before,” Belodeau said. “But I’m excited to see how we match up.”

Neither program, Penn nor Penn State, entered Friday’s meeting intimidated by the postseason atmosphere — the Quakers have made 12 straight NCAA Tournaments, while the Nittany Lions have made 7 straight — but it was certainly Penn State that had the more experienced offense. All three of the Nittany Lions’ key scoring options (O’Donnell, Madison Carter and Maria Auth) played critical roles when the team made a run to the Final Four in 2017. Penn State also made the Final Four in 2016. On the other hand, the Penn offense is very young; all three leading point-getters this season are underclassmen.

The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 4-2 in the first 15 minutes, with O’Donnell, Carter and Auth all scoring (they combined for 12 goals in the contest), but then the Quakers went on a 7-1 run to flip the scoreboard 9-5 in their favor. It was a rare Penn veteran, redshirt senior Emily Rogers-Healion, who drew the most excitement from the Quakers crowd.

She scored two goals and an assist in the first half, playing just a three-mile drive from Ward Melville, her high school alma mater.

“It’s really cool to come back to this field that I watched girls play college lacrosse on since I was like five,” Rogers-Healion said. “I went to the national championships (hosted by Stony Brook in 2011 and 2012), camps, all of it. I’m really blessed to be able to come back here.”

The Quakers took an 11-7 lead early in the second half, but Carter and O’Donnell clawed the Nittany Lions back into it. The duo combined for four goals over the next 20 minutes and O’Donnell tied it up at 13-13 with just over eight minutes to play.

Four minutes later, Belodeau buried one for the highlight reel… and also to give her team back the lead. Fellow freshman Elyse Decker cut through the lane and wasn’t open, but then Belodeau found the open space, caught a pass from Caroline Cummings and went behind her back with a quick flick of the wrist to give her team a 14-13 lead.

 

Penn State held a 43-28 shot advantage, but Cheeseman made up for it with elite goalkeeping for Penn. Finally, with 23 seconds left in regulation, O’Donnell broke through and brought the Nittany Lions within a 14-14 tie, but it was all for naught.

This was Belodeau’s night, and she seemed destined to be the hero.

“It’s pretty surreal,” she said. “Just being here and playing in this tournament is surreal as is. My dad and I and all of my friends have been watching NCAA Tournament games growing up. Just being a part of it was a surreal experience, let alone being part of a game-winning goal. It was pretty crazy.


Scores from the rest of the NCAA First Round action

  • Virginia Tech 13, Georgetown 10 — The Hokies secured their first NCAA Tournament win in program history and will go on to play #2 North Carolina on Sunday in the second round. Paige Petty and Tristan McGinley each had four goals in the win, while Meagh Graham recorded 10 saves.
  • #7 Towson 16, Wagner 6 — The Tigers scored early and often against the Seahawks, including an 8-0 run to run past Wagner, securing a trip to the second round. Kaitlyn Montalbano led the Tigers with four goals, while Emily Gillingham put up three goals and a pair of assists. Towson will face Northwestern in the second round.
  • Colorado 23, Jacksonville 18 — The Buffaloes emerged victorious from a wild scoring affair with the Dolphins. Darby Kiernan had a day with seven goals and five assists for a program record 12 points. Her seven goals in the win tied another program record. It was Colorado’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win. They’ll play #6 Florida on Sunday.
  • Princeton 12, Syracuse 11 (2OT) — Colby Chanenchuk scored the game-winner in her home city of Boston against Syracuse in a wild affair. The Orange had a huge second half comeback, using a 5-0 to take a one-goal lead with 6:57 left, but the Tigers were resilient. #4 Boston College awaits Princeton in the second round.
  • #8 Loyola 18, Fairfield 2 — The Greyhounds made quick work of the Stags behind four goals and two assists by Livy Rosenzweig. They also had two 7-0 runs to pretty much end the game early on. They’ll take on the Navy Midshipmen next.
  • Denver 19, High Point 10 — Denver earned a date with the #1 Maryland Terrapins on Sunday by virtue of beating High Point. The Pios pulled away from the Panthers by scoring 11 of the game’s final 14 goals. Quintin Hoch-Bullen had a game-high five points.
  • Northwestern 24, Richmond 18 — Goals, goals, goals. This game had a lot of them. Northwestern attacker Selena Lasota had nine, setting an all-time NCAA Tournament record, as the Wildcats will face #7 Towson in the second round.
  • Virginia 12, Stanford 3 — Goals? Not here. Not if you’re Stanford. The Cardinal offense struggled mightily against the Cavaliers, as Virginia earned the NCAA Tournament win. Rachel Vander Kolk stopped 14 shots for the win. They’ll face #3 James Madison in the second round.
  • Navy 16, Johns Hopkins 9 — After a trip to the Final Four in 2017, the Midshipmen are looking to do it again. They won against the Blue Jays in dominant fashion in the First Round thanks to Julia Collins and her six goals and one assist. They’ll face Loyola in a Patriot League rematch on Sunday.

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