Fairfield edged by Wagner in NCAA tournament
FAIRFIELD — Goodbyes are never easy, especially for a group of seniors that’s done so much to establish a winning attitude.
So the final postgame speech wasn’t easy for Fairfield women’s lacrosse coach Laura Field in the moments after the Stags 15-13 loss to Wagner in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, played Tuesday afternoon at Rafferty Stadium.
Fairfield’s senior class played a key role in three successive trips to the MAAC championship game. It was also instrumental in winning the last two conference titles to secure NCAA appearances for the first time in program history.
“We count on them for everything,” Field said. “We count on them for culture. We count on them for both ends of the field, offense, defense and midfield. We count on them to lay the groundwork of the right way to do things and set the example. They’ve never failed to come through.”
Among the graduating seniors is Brooke Gallagher, a first-team all-conference pick whose 80 points this season ranks as the third-best scoring season in team history. Madison’s Erin Mammele owns the top two spots and three of the top 10 in single-season draw controls. Taylor Mitchell and Kathleen Hulseman combined for 73 goals and 84 points this season. Megan Beach was named the MAAC’s defender of the year.
For the opening 20 minutes on Tuesday, Fairfield (15-4), which entered the game having won 11 straight, appeared on track to advance for the first time since 2009.
Senior attacker Taylor Mitchell’s goal gave the Stags an 8-5 lead with 9 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the first half.
Wagner (16-3), the Northeast Conference champion, was undefeated in four games against MAAC competition this season. It managed to hold the Stags scoreless for the remainder of the half while cutting the deficit to one on goals by Megan Drum (five goals) and Erin Kerstetter (four goals, three assists).
And while Fairfield began the second half strong, using goals by Mitchell and Cameryn Dera to open up its third three-goal lead of the game, Wagner took over for the game’s final 24 minutes.
Four straight rapid-fire goals, capped by Drum’s tally with 19:43 remaining, gave the Seahawks their first lead of the game at 11-10. The lead was 13-11 when Gallagher (three goals, three assists) and Diana DeVita (three goals, assist) got the Stags even for the last time with 8:43 on the clock.
It proved to be their final rally. Kerstetter broke the tie with 6:49 remaining, and Maria Henwood added an insurance goal with 2:57 to go.
Fairfield, Field said, simply got away from playing the type of lacrosse that made it successful all season.
“It was a combination of bad events,” Field said. “We turned the ball over a lot. We gave up a lot of eight-meters, which resulted in goals and fewer opportunities on offense. I don’t think we shot well in the second half. But the kids fought. We’re beyond proud of our upperclassmen and seniors. They left it all on the field today.”
WAGNER 15, FAIRFIELD 13
WAGNER 7 8 — 15
FAIRFIELD 8 5 — 13
WAGNER: Drum, Megan (5); Kerstetter, Erin (4); Falcone,stephanie (3); Henwood, Maria (2); Seims, Madeline (1) FAIRFIELD: Gallagher, Brooke (3); DeVita, Diana (3); Hulseman, Kathleen (2); Horning, Kelly (2); Mitchell, Taylor (2); Dera, Cameryn (1). Goalies: W — Fee, Kelsey (7 saves), DiStefano, Lauren (5). F — Conquest, Olivia (9).