NEW LONDON, Conn. – After 110 minutes of play yielded a 3-3 draw, third-seeded Elms College advanced to the title round of the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Championship by a 3-1 margin in penalty kicks against second-seeded Mitchell College on Thursday afternoon at Alumni Field.
In the fifth round of penalty kicks, Sevonnah LaRochelle buried the shot that sent Elms (9-5-4 overall) back to the NECC title game for the second time in school history. The Blazers will face the winner of Thursday's other semifinal match-up (fourth-seeded Becker College against top-seeded Lesley University) on Saturday, November 5 at the site of the highest seed.
LaRochelle finished with a goal and an assist in the contest, and teammate Gianna Gorneault added a pair of goals to pace the Elms attack. Mitchell's Maariyah Lombardo finished with two goals and an assist while Nikki Hoxie also tacked on a score.
Elms coach Kevin Meek brought LaRochelle off the bench in the 16th minute, and the move paid almost immediate dividends. LaRochelle stepped onto the pitch and promptly scored within 40 seconds to give the Blazers the early advantage. The play started with a free kick by Allyson Witaszek on the left side, and LaRochelle redirected a shot inside the near post for her sixth goal of the season.
The Blazers added their second goal in the 23rd minute on Gorneault's first tally of the day. She took a pass from Christina Goodchild at the top of the box and cut back to the center of the field before firing a shot into the right corner of the goal.
Lombardo dragged the Mariners back into the game with unassisted efforts in the 33rd and 42nd minutes. The first goal was the result of pure effort, as she fought through a pack of defenders before winning a ball in the Elms box and finishing into the right corner. The second score came after fending off a defender for a ball near the right sideline, turning the corner and slipping a shot past the keeper from a tough angle along the end line.
The score was 2-2 at the half, but Elms quickly took the lead back just minutes into the second stanza. Goodchild and LaRochelle connected with Gorneault for her second goal in the 50th minute to give the Blazers the 3-2 advantage. It was the 13th tally of the season for Elms' leading scorer.
Late in the second half, time looked to be running out for the Mariners before an Elms turnover led to a Mitchell rush up the right sideline. Lombardo took a pass on the right wing and put a shot on goal that keeper Kelly Callahan deflected but couldn't hold on to. Hoxie, trailing the play from the start, swooped in to clean up the rebound and tied the game with 2:34 remaining in regulation.
Neither side was able to produce a quality scoring chance in either overtime period. Both sides quickly prepared for penalty kicks, and two of the top keepers in the conference—Callahan and Mitchell's Kaylee Woodford—took center stage.
Both sides came up empty in the first and second round of penalty kicks. Woodford made a pair of acrobatic saves to keep Elms off the board while Mitchell's shooters each hit shots off the right post. Chelsea Carroll finally put one in the back of the net to give Elms a 1-0 edge, but Lauren Fritsch matched her on the ensuing try to even it up.
Goodchild came through for the Blazers in the fourth round, and after another Mitchell attempt clanked off the post again, LaRochelle lined up her attempt with a chance to clinch Elms' return to the title game. She didn't disappoint, sending her teammates into a wild celebration at midfield.
Woodford finished with eight saves while Callahan recorded six. Elms held a 17-13 advantage in shots for the contest.
Elms' last NECC finals appearance came in the conference's inaugural season in 2008. The Blazers defeated Lesley in penalty kicks that year after playing to a 1-1, double-overtime draw.
Mitchell ended the 2011 season with an overall record of 9-4-3.
2011 NECC Women's Soccer Championship
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
#7 Southern Vermont 0, #2 Mitchell College 2
#6 Regis College 0, #3 Elms College 3
#5 Newbury College 0, #4 Becker College 1 (OT)
Thursday, November 3, 2011
#4 Becker at #1 Lesley University - 8:15 p.m.
#3 Elms 3, #2 Mitchell College 3 (Elms advances 3-1 in penalty kicks)
Saturday, November 1, 2011
Championship Game at highest seed 1:00 p.m.