On to the next round
With approximately 4:30 left to play, and the game tied at 8-all, Fredonia State’s Katie Kleine took possession of the ball behind the net and held it.
And held it.
And held it some more.
Fredonia State was attempting to run out the clock for the last shot of the game.
The strategy worked, and with 3.3 seconds remaining on the clock, Juliana Kotas scored the game-winning goal to give the Blue Devils (12-6) their first-ever NCAA tournament win, 9-8, over the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers (13-5) in the second round of the NCAA Division III Women’s Lacrosse Championships.
“I didn’t even see it go in at first. (I didn’t know I had scored) until all of my teammates came running over and celebrated with me,” Kotas said of the winning goal. “I just kind of shot it and hoped it would go in. Honestly, I was the last person expecting to get the game-winning shot, but I was glad I did.”
Fredonia State coach Chris Case called timeout with 4:42 left in the game to gather his team and go over the strategy for the final possession.
“The strategy there was to make sure we got the last shot,” Case said. “We had to be creative in a way to really run the clock out, yet maintain possession. Eventually they brought the double-team and we had to use some more timeouts down the stretch.”
The double team came and Case was forced to use two more timeouts in the final 4:30 of regulation.
During those timeouts, he continued to remind his team to be patient and wait to make a play on the net until there was under 30 seconds remaining.
“In each one of those timeouts I was just telling the girls to wait until there were 30 seconds left on the clock,” Case said. “The last timeout came with 30 seconds left and from there, we wanted to run our play. Katie Kleine got doubled and it became a free-for-all.”
As the final play broke down, it quickly turned into a backyard situation.
Fredonia State maintained its cool despite the breakdown, and with under 10 seconds remaining, the ball found the stick of Kotas.
Kotas drove hard to the RPI goalie’s left side and let go of a shot from an extreme angle.
The shot found the back of the net between the pipe and the goalie’s left shoulder to give Fredonia State an exciting victory in a game in which they trailed nearly 75 percent of the way.
RPI jumped out to a 2-0 lead within the first three minutes of the contest, but the Blue Devils were able to climb back and tie the game at 2-all on the back of junior midfielder Marissa Cussins.
Cussins scored Fredonia State’s first two goals and seemed to come up big every time her team needed her.
The Engineers appeared to gather themselves after Cussins’ second goal and went on to score three of the next four goals and took a 5-3 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the tide turned in favor of the Blue Devils after RPI controlled the majority of the first half.
Fredonia State scored three of the first four goals in the second half to pull within one with 21:30 remaining.
Once again it was Kotas who came up with a game-changing goal right when the Blue Devils needed it most.
With the Blue Devils having trailed for nearly 30 minutes, Kotas received a feed from Cussins and converted on the scoring chance to even the game, 6-6.
Four minutes later, Cussins gave Fredonia State its first lead of the contest and Sam Owen followed with a goal to bring the score to 8-6 in favor of the home team.
Then, things quickly began to unravel for the Blue Devils.
RPI came out of a timeout and quickly evened the score with two goals in 30 seconds, as Rachel Scofield and Meg Colitz combined to even the score.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they never doubted themselves.
“The girls never gave up,” Case said. “They just kept fighting and fighting. They kept believing that we could do this. When we tied it at six, I think that was the thing that put us over the top.”
The momentum was clearly on the Engineers’ side, but Fredonia State was able to obtain possession of the draw and move the ball into RPI territory before getting it to Kleine behind the net.
“We have a lot of leadership on our team,” Mary Bruton said. “We had been a little rocky at the end of the season, but we knew that wasn’t who we were. We knew we could play better and that we had to pull through for each other and for coach, with this being his last year.”
Case will be stepping down following the conclusion of the 2014 season to focus on women’s soccer, the other team he has been coaching since the 2002-03 season.
Case, a two-time SUNYAC coach of the year (2008, 2012), has at least one more game to look forward to in his women’s lacrosse coaching career.
“This is our first postseason victory for women’s lacrosse and to do it in this fashion is unbelievable,” Case said. “The atmosphere was unbelievable. The fans were fantastic the entire game and helped us rally when we were behind in the second half. It was a great experience for everyone involved.”
Cussins finished with three goals and two assists in the win. The three goals bring her team-leading total to 55 on the season.
“They are a great defensive team and when I saw my opportunities I took them,” Cussins said. “I knew I had to do a lot for our team and that’s what I did. It’s a great feeling. Back in January we had this as a goal it means a lot.”
Katie Glagolev added two goals in the win while Kotas finished with arguably the game’s two biggest goals.
NOTES: Fredonia State and RPI were dead even in saves (6), turnovers (11) and ground balls (11) Draw controls – 10-8 RPI – and shots on goal – 15-14 Fredonia State – were also nearly even The Blue Devils held a 5-1 advantage in free-position shots The Engineers entered on a five-game winning streak while Fredonia State came into the contest the losers of three straight.