Originally published in The Statesman
The game was tied with mere seconds remaining. The ball lay nestled in the stick of Stony Brook freshman midfielder Kasey Mitchell as the crowd — speckled with Stony Brook red and Albany purple alike — stood collectively with anticipation.
Watching most of the contest from the sideline, Mitchell had not recorded a single statistic all day. But with the America East Women’s Lacrosse Championship on the line, the freshman had a free-position chance to win the game at the buzzer.
Mitchell took two steps in from the left and shot the ball under the crossbar and into the net, sending the Stony Brook bench and crowd into eruption. The Seawolves defeated the Great Danes, 10-9, to claim their fourth consecutive conference title.
So what was going through Mitchell’s head as she stepped to the free-position line, preparing for the game-deciding shot?
“Honestly, nothing,” Mitchell said. “I was just praying to God that it went in.”
Head coach Joe Spallina, who said he had never won a lacrosse game with a buzzer-beater in his life — not as a player nor as a coach at any level — had complete faith in the freshman to keep composure in the highest of stakes.
“Ice in her veins, man,” Spallina said. “She’s a tough kid.
“I think when you’re a little kid, it’s like that situation, you know, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, mighty Kasey at the bat,” he said, grinning at his pun. “She hit it out of the park.”
The game could not have been much closer, as Stony Brook and Albany were tied eight times in the contest. Neither team took a lead larger than two goals, a stark contrast from last Saturday’s regular season meeting when the Seawolves annihilated the Great Danes, 13-4.
“I think they played their offense a little differently,” junior midfielder Dorrien Van Dyke, who scored four goals in the game, said. “They definitely had more of a fight today.”
With 4:14 remaining in the game, Albany senior midfielder Rachel Bowles scored on a free-position shot to give the Great Danes a 9-8 lead, their first of the second half.
Albany controlled the ensuing draw and looked to burn as much time as possible. America East co-Defensive Player of the Year Alyssa Fleming forced junior attacker Dakotah Savitcheff into a critical turnover and secured the ground ball. Stony Brook cleared the zone, taking offense, where Spallina called timeout with two minutes remaining.
“Pretty much when you go down and people are stalling in the women’s game it’s almost impossible to get the ball back,” junior attacker Courtney Murphy said. “Flem won the game for us, she came up with that ball … I think people would forget about that play, but if it wasn’t for her they would have been celebrating on our field.”
When play resumed, the ball cycled around the field. It eventually found junior attacker Alyssa Guido, who found Murphy crashing to the front of the net for a quick catch-and-shoot to tie the game, 9-9. Scoring her 95th goal of the season, Murphy leapt wildly with celebration, having kept her team’s championship hopes alive.
“We just needed a goal,” Murphy, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, said. “By any means necessary, we had to do it. Guido’s awesome, she found me. I closed my eyes and I heard it hit the pipe — we had hit the pipe on two shots before that — so I was like ‘No way, oh my god it’s going to pipe and out,’ but it went in and we got the momentum.”
Murphy scored four goals in the game, creeping closer to the NCAA single-season goals record, 98, set by Delaware’s Karen Emas in 1984.
Savitcheff also scored four goals in the game, as the Great Danes star was a constant threat. Perhaps her finest play of the offensive player’s night came on defense, however. With just over seven minutes to play, Savitcheff stripped the ball from Stony Brook junior attacker Taylor Ranftle in the neutral zone. She garnered the loose ball and hurled a deep pass for junior midfielder Sarah Martin, who scored on a breakaway to tie the game 8-8.
“We just had some breakdowns,” Spallina said of his defense. “[Savitcheff]’s a really good player, they put her in good spots, she made plays.”
But the game will be remembered for the unlikely heroism of Mitchell, the freshman whose nerves kept cool enough for Stony Brook to win the game and clinch its spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“That finish, I mean, I don’t even know how you can write it up because I don’t even have words for it,” Van Dyke said. “It was awesome.”