May 1, 2014

Colorado Keeps Season Alive With OT Win Over SDSU

from Press Release

DENVER – Colorado versus San Diego State: take two. Though the journey was different, the outcome was the same, with the CU lacrosse team taking down SDSU in overtime. This time, Johnna Fusco netted the sudden victory game-winner to give the Buffaloes a 9-8 win in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation quarterfinals.

CU has a growing knack for overtime play. The Buffs have gone into extra minutes in four of their last five games. In fact, all the teams playing in Thursday's MPSF quarterfinals (SDSU, USC and Oregon) have lost to CU in overtime during the regular season. CU is now a perfect 4-0 in overtime, picking up two wins over SDSU. In its inaugural season, the Buffs improve to 11-7 overall.

"It's not a trend we're promoting but we've been fighting hard and there's good teams in our conference," CU head coach Ann Elliott said of her team's recent inclination for extra minutes. "It's taken us longer than 60 minutes to win and we're very fortunate for every opportunity. We're fortunate to be on the winning side of these games. It's tough to win in overtime."

Despite the tendency for overtime, they did break two trends, though these were more likely to hurt than help the Buffs. Colorado entered halftime up 4-2, but San Diego State (7-10 overall) came surging back in the final 30 minutes of regulation. For the first time in their last 14 games, and for just the fourth time total, the Buffs allowed more than five second half goals. Outscoring opponents in the second half in eight of their 10 victories entering the postseason matchup, Thursday marked just the second time the Buffs got a win when not being outscored in the second half. Against Fresno State, the Bulldogs outscored the Buffs five to two in the second half, but CU was barely affected after their 10-1 first half dominance.

Things were different against San Diego State – different from other games and different from their first matchup. Whereas SDSU dominated the first half in April, CU took the lead in May. At Kittredge Field, CU came surging back to force overtime. At DU's Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, the Aztecs were the ones with the late push.

CU went into the intermission with a two-goal lead, extending it to three in the opening minutes of the second half. SDSU then used a 10 minute 5-0 run to take a two-goal lead of its own. Ever the team known for late game heroics, CU evened the score in the final seven minutes of regulation. SDSU might have had momentum for the majority of the second half, but CU continued its overtime dominance.

The Aztecs took two shots to the Buffs' one in the first period of overtime, but neither were enough to take the lead and the win. The teams headed to the sudden victory period, where CU wasted little time in ending the game. In the first minute, Fusco got fouled and set up for a free-position shot. In the process, she got fouled again. This time she'd make it count and end the game.

"I honestly can't even remember but I think [my thought] was 'get this in and the game will be over,'" Fusco said of the last moments of the game. "Nothing was really going through my head. It was just 'goal, goal, goal.'"

Fusco probably spent a lot of the game thinking about goals. She led the team with a hat trick, her fifth of the season, and two assists. The Buffs did a great job of spreading the offense, with six players netting at least one goal, but coach Elliott was particularly impressed with Fusco's fight to the finish.

"I honestly think all of our kids fight and I think specifically today, Johnna fought hard," Elliott said. "When we needed a ground ball, a draw control, or someone to dodge hard, she did it. She got pushed around a little bit but she got back up and I'm proud of everyone today, and I'm especially proud of her."

San Diego State outshot Colorado 32 to 24, though the teams combined for just three free-position goals off 15 shots. Both teams had strong defensive presences, with each goalie grabbing 10 saves. MPSF Rookie of the Year Paige Soenksen had seven saves in the first half to help give CU an early lead, while SDSU's Katrina Reeves stopped six in the second half to force the regulation tie.

CU picked up major ground on the draw, winning 14 to SDSU's seven (including a 7-0 advantage in the first half alone). The Aztec's aggressive play also cost them, picking up 33 fouls and three yellow cards, the brunt of which seemed to fall upon Fusco.

"It drove me," Fusco said of getting hit. "At some points, it got a little frustrating but my coaches told me to keep my cool, just relax, and I think that's what you have to do to keep your head in the game and really stick with it."

SDSU seemingly grabbed an early lead in the first five minutes. After lots of back and forth, as would be common for the remainder of the game, the Aztecs shot one into the back of the net, but the goal was called off due to an offensive foul. It would actually take 10:03 before either team would get on the board. From the 12-meter fan, Maddie DeWinter drew the goalie left and found Cali Castagnola to shoot into the open space at the right. Just over three minutes later, the Buffs extended their lead to two, when Fusco used some ankle-breaking moves to find the back of the net.

SDSU finally built some momentum (getting another near goal when an Aztec went coast-to-coast, but couldn't get one past Soenksen). In a 2:05 span, the Aztecs had tied things up at 2-2, with Andrea Killebrew and Christina Ricciardulli both going unassisted.

The teams fought back and forth, with each causing turnovers, fighting for ground balls and struggling to keep possession, for seven more minutes before either would score. With less than four minutes remaining in the half, Fusco got to the 8-meter, but didn't take the shot. Instead, she found Katie Macleayat the left edge of the crease, who shot one low while the goalie was distracted. With 2:27 left, the Buffs were back on the attack, with Amelia Brown rushing downtown and beating several defenders to give CU a 4-2 lead.

Sarah Lautman got a free-position shot with five seconds left of the clock, sending one at the net and looking for a rebound, but the SDSU defense stayed strong to keep their deficit to two heading into intermission.

CU extended its lead to a game-high three goals by the first four minutes of the second half, with Macleay scoring off a Fusco assist. Three minutes later, SDSU narrowed it back to two, when Vickie Porter sent her free-position shot bouncing on the ground and back behind Soenksen. Just over nine minutes into the half, Lautman extended the lead back to three when she rushed right to knock one in, but CU's three-goal lead would quickly turn into a three-goal deficit.

Porter once again got the Aztecs on the board, setting in motion a 4-0 run that would take more than 10 minutes off the clock. Ricciardulli would score less than three minutes later, forcing CU to take a timeout. The regrouping would do little to slow the Aztecs, as Ricciardulli would net her third of the game. CU would get a chance when SDSU's Reeves kept the ball in the crease for longer than the allotted 10 seconds. Forced away from the net as Macleay set up at the leftmost 8-meter hash, Macleay blasted one low just as Reeves slid in for the last second save.

The Aztecs would continue their scoring run, with Bailey Ewing and Felice Artuso putting their team up by three. With just under seven minutes left in regulation, the Buffs made their final push. With two defenders on her, Fusco went for it and sent one in to get CU back within two. At the four minute mark, the Buffs would get their equalizer. Castagnola, standing at the right edge of the 8-meter fan, foundMarie Moore near the crease, who caught, ran and shot to tie the game at 8-8. Though the final minutes saw more aggressive play, some controversial calls and one last attempt, the draw would hold through regulation.

Both team's goalies were essential to the first six minutes of the overtime. In the final seconds before the teams switched sides, Lautman sent one to Fusco with Reeves out of the net, but she managed the save anyway. As the second period of overtime was coming to an end, Soenksen came up big once again to help send her team into double OT.

Fusco needed just 41 more seconds to turn the game into a CU victory, netting the game-winner from the 8-meter.

"I'm obviously very proud of this team and what they've accomplished," Elliott said. "To be able to have the fight they have, to be able to be down and come back and pull it out in overtime is exciting. We've done that a few times this year and to have another opportunity to extend our season for them to play together one more time at least is exciting."

The MPSF Tournament continues Friday, with Oregon and No. 20 Denver facing off at 4 p.m. CU and No. 18 Stanford will take each other on in the late game, which will start no earlier than 7 p.m.

"I expect it to be just like this one," Fusco said of the Buffs' second matchup against Stanford. "Just as hard, even more competitive. We're going to come out just as hard. We don't want it to be our last game so, we're in it!"

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