Courtesy of Moravian Sports Information
BETHLEHEM, Pa. --- Sophomore forward Gabby Stelzmiller netted a hat trick in the second half to force overtime, and senior forward Valentina Margiottiello scored the game-winner on a breakaway in the 104th minute to give the second seeded Moravian College women's soccer team a 4-3, double-overtime win over third seed The Catholic University of America in a Landmark Conference Semifinal match at John Makuvek Field Tuesday evening.
The victory lifts the Hounds to 10-6-1 overall and puts Moravian in the 2016 Landmark Conference Championship match at top seed The University of Scranton on Saturday, November 5 with a chance for the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament. The Blue and Grey are heading to the conference championship for the fourth time in the 10-year history of the Landmark Conference, and Moravian won the 2008 title.
"I really can't say enough about the heart and determination our group plays with," stated Head Coach Jeff Ykoruk. "I'm so proud of the level of play tonigh tand how well we handled adversity. We knew what would work for us wasn't going to pretty, but it's about getting results and that's exactly what we got.
"I said earlier in the year that Gabby was on of the top forwards in the region and she showed why tonight," continued Ykoruk. "She was amazing and her first goal lifted our team to another level. Valentina was all over the field tonight. I'm so proud of her for scoring the game-winning goal. We ask a lot of her and she handles the pressure so well. She played a ton of minutes in multiple positions and she was tremendous."
Tuesday night's match versus Catholic was the program's first home Landmark Conference Tournament contest since the Greyhounds defeated Catholic, 1-0 in double overtime, for the Hounds' lone Landmark Conference title. The Blue and Grey last appeared in the Landmark Championship match in 2012.
"Our program is very thankful for all the support we got from our athletic teams, coaches and administrators," Ykoruk noted. "They helped motivate our players and the atmosphere was unbelievable. Tonight is why Moravian College is so special and we are happy to have pulled the win out for not only our program but for the college and alumni as well."
The Cardinals, who fell to Moravian 2-1 in the regular season on a pair of early goals, would strike in the 12th minute for an early 1-0 lead on a perfectly placed 20-yard shot into the upper left corner of the goal from the right side of the field.
The Greyhounds were limited to three shots on goal in the first 45 minutes of action with junior forward/midfielder Emily Crowley firing a shot on goal in the 38th minute and junior forward Abby Guman getting a shot on the keeper in the 44th minute. Moravian junior goalie Jessica Lawton made three saves in the first half to keep it a one-goal match.
The Blue and Grey wasted no time in the second half putting the pressure on Catholic with an early shot by freshman midfielder Juliana Caranci going wide of the goal 3:17 into the half. Just over four minutes later Stelzmiller was sent in on a break down the right side by Caranci and rifled a shot from just inside the 18-yard box and into the net for her ninth goal of the season.
Moravian kept the pressure on with a header from senior defender Christine Miklas in the 56th minute appearing to get over the goal line before the defense cleared the ball but no goal was ruled. One minute later, Stelzmiller broke in down the left side on another breakaway, touched the ball to the center of the field and drilled in her second goal of the match from the top of the six-yard box.
The Greyhounds looked to extend the lead in he next three minutes with senior forward Hannah LaFronz just high of the goal and shots on the keeper by Stelzmiller and sophomore defender Shae Duka.
However, it would be Catholic that struck next on a double header off of a direct kick in the 67th minute. The Cardinals retook the lead with a tally on a corner kick in the 80th minute.
With Catholic looking to extend its lead on another corner kick, the Greyhounds were able to clear the ball away and send Stelzmiller on another breakaway down the left side. Once again, Stelzmiller beat the defenders to the ball, touched it to settle before firing a shot into the back of the net to knot the score at 3-3 with just 3:02 to play. The goal completed Stelzmiller's second hat trick of the season, and she has scored nine of her team-leading 11 goals since October 5.
Stelzmiller nearly ended the match in regulation when she got in on another breakaway and with the goalie out to challenge, Stelzmiller pushed the shot just wide of the right post with 1:38 on the clock.
Each team would have its opportunities in the first overtime. Lawton, who finished the night with eight saves, made a pair of stops on shots by the Cardinals while Stelzmiller had another shot at the game-winner in the 98th minute.
"Jess stood tall in goal and made a couple of huge saves to keep us in the game," Ykoruk said. "She was a vocal leader in the back all night. Kristen Parry and Shae ran all over the field and helped win the central part of the field for us. Our reserves stepped into the game and maintained a high level of play and this was a total team win tonight.
"Our entire back line played so well and had to chase around one of the best attacking groups in the region. They log a lot of minutes and never break down. They keep us in games and a lot of times backs don't get the credit but it doesn't stop them," finished Ykoruk.
In the second overtime, Moravian cleared out of its defensive end with Stelzmiller settling a ball to Caranci. Caranci looked up and saw a seam down the middle of the field and sent Margiottiello in on a breakaway. Martgiottiello took one small touch to settle the ball and shift the angle on the goalie before ripping the game-winning shot just inside the right post for her fifth goal of the season.
Despite being outshot, 25-17, the Greyhounds did earn 10 corner kicks to just seven for Catholic.
Moravian will return to action on Saturday, November 5 in the 2016 Landmark Conference Championship match at top seed The University of Scranton beginning at 1:00 p.m. The Royals defeated fourth seed Susquehanna University, 1-0 in overtime, in Tuesday's other semifinal contest.