No. 4 Syracuse’s free-position chances pay off with Riley Donahue’s late goal to defeat Albany, 13-12
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
With under 20 seconds left, Albany committed its 34th and most damaging foul of the night. Riley Donahue caught a pass and rushed to her usual spot in Syracuse’s offense — a couple of feet away from the net to the left of the goalie — as the seconds ticked off during the tied game.
Noticing an opening, Donahue charged the net and the defense collapsed on her. Albany defender Imani Hedgeman rushed over, pushed Donahue down and the referee’s whistle was blown before Donahue hit the turf.
The junior attack jumped up and readied herself for her third free-position shot of the game. Her first attempt ricocheted off Albany goaltender Erin Leghart and hit the bar. Donahue bested Leghart in attempt two, sending it through the goalie’s legs.
Feet planted at the nine-yard line, Donahue hunched over, angled her stick towards the sky and crashed down on Leghart, delaying a shot for as long as she could.
Donahue dropped her stick head down as the ball, and Syracuse’s chances at victory flew through the air. Leghart lunged to her right but by then it was too late. The ball had found the back of the net. Donahue’s teammates mobbed her in celebration with 9.1 seconds remaining.
No. 4 Syracuse (5-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) struggled throughout the second half, getting outscored 8-6 in the frame. But the Orange’s free-position shot efficiency proved critical in the 13-12 win over Albany (2-2).
“Free-position shots. That’s all I’ll say. That’s my opening statement,” Albany head coach John Battaglino said. He paused before he finished his remarks. “Syracuse had 15 called. We had one.”
Syracuse went 9-of-15 from the eight-meter mark and just 4-of-15 on all other shots in the victory.
The Orange offense stalled in the opening frame of the contest. In its last three games — against Canisius, Binghamton and Massachusetts — SU faced zone defenses, and handled them with ease, winning by a combined 32 goals. With just one day to prepare for Albany’s one-on-one defense, Syracuse sputtered.
“They were playing aggressive inside the eight,” SU head coach Gary Gait said. “I think anybody that watched that game would say, yeah there’s a totally two different styles of play going and that’s why the fouls looked the way they did
SU tried ball screens to shield off the Great Danes. It attempted cutting and dodging to create a modicum of space, but none of it helped. The attack settled for sending long shots towards the net which Leghart saved with ease. The only success came from attacking Albany’s defenders, drawing fouls and earning the subsequent free-position. Luckily for the Orange, that worked.
Syracuse’s first six goals came from free-position shots. Nicole Levy opened the scoring 1:41 into the game as she beat Leghart on a low, scorching shot. Mary Rahal and Natalie Wallon would follow suit. The Orange used a variety of shooting angles to consistently best Leghart. Levy scored her second goal later in the first half. Off a free-position Levy took one step, swung her stick across her body and fired off a shot that whizzed past Leghart’s left shoulder.
“Mentally it’s a little tough knowing that your defense is doing everything they can to stop the ball from getting to you but I just try and get up and save as many as I can,” Leghart said. “It’s a new shot, a new ball, possibly a save every time.”
With Albany’s hounding defense limiting SU’s leading goal scorer Emily Hawryschuk to just one goal, Levy carried the team. The East Islip native doubled her goal total for the season on Monday night, scoring four of her six goals from the free-position.
“They just kind of left me open,” Levy said. “You just take the opportunities that you are presented.”
The one-goal difference continued the trend of close games between the Orange and the Great Danes. In both 2014 and 2015, SU defeated Albany by two goals. Last season, Syracuse survived a ferocious comeback in the waning minutes and won 8-7. Tonight was no different.
In its first competitive game of the season, the Orange had relied on free-position goals all game. But it was the last one that mattered the most.
Published on February 27, 2017 at 10:32 pm