MANSFIELD, CT – Senior forward Autumn Sorice (Bethel, CT) snatched early momentum from Eastern Connecticut State University by connecting on a 35-yard game-tying bomb midway through the first half, then scored the Golden Goal with just under four minutes left in overtime as the Colonials defeated the tournament's top seed on its home turf for the second straight season, 2-1, in the championship game of the 2017 Little East Conference Tournament at the Mansfield Outdoor Complex Saturday afternoon.
Junior forward Aly Clarke (Mystic, CT) had lifted No. 1 seed Eastern (9-8-3) to a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute, and even though the Warriors had the better of play throughout most of the session, Sorice pulled her team even eight minutes later on her 15th goal of the season, a long-range missile off sophomore back Courtney Ravo's (Bethel, CT) throw-in.
Both teams had chances during a scoreless second half and first overtime before senior midfielder Brooke Hellman (Newington, CT) won a ball on the near sideline, keeping the ball in when Eastern attempted to clear. When Hellman gained possession, Sorice raced in open space on the left wing and Hellman split two defenders in threading her a pass. With two players to beat, Sorice was slowed by the first but managed to retain possession, and before the second defender was able to close on her – put a perfect touch on a shot through a small opening between the left post and Eastern junior keeper Kayla LaBrecque (Westhampton, MA) for her 16th goal of the year – the only shot of the second overtime.
The victory gives Western (17-1-2) its third three-peat championship in the 18-year history of the tournament and makes the Colonials the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division III tournament from the Little East. The Colonials are now 10-2 in championship games – 4-0 against Eastern Connecticut – while the Warriors drop to 4-6 in final game appearances.
Sorice, last year's LEC Offensive Player-of-the-Year, was accorded tournament MVP honors for the second straight year. She also had an assist on the second goal in Western's 2-1 semifinal-win over No. 3 seed Keene State College Thursday.
The goal was the sixth game-winner this year for Sorice and helped her team improve to 11-1 on the road this year. In last year's title game, Sorice scored an empty-net goal to put the finishing touches on a 2-0 victory over Eastern on the same field.
Eastern and Western had shared the 2017 LEC regular-season title with 6-0-1 records, playing to a 1-1 double-overtime draw October 7 at Danbury.
Sorice and senior midfielder Andrew Devoe (Farmington, CT) were threats to score throughout the game, combining to take ten shots, but Eastern senior center back Krista Petersen (Wallingford, CT) anchored a defense that allowed only five of the Colonials' shot to reach goal.
Clarke's team-leading tenth goal of the year (she had a goal and assist in Thursday's semifinal triumph) had staked the Warriors to a 1-0 lead when she was left alone on the left side of the field and volleyed a shot inside the left post, past senior keeper Jillian Fernandez (Columbia, CT).
In the opening minutes of overtime, Eastern senior forward Maggie Bodington (Stratford, CT) had a pair of scoring bids from the right wing, but her first sailed wide of the far post and her second travelled over the crossbar. Bodington and Clarke combined for 11 of Eastern's 16 shots.
In the final minutes of the first overtime, Sorice and Devoe nearly ended the game when Sorice carried a long distance and fed DeVoe, who got a step on her opponent but sent her drive over the crossbar.
The two best scoring bids came in the second half, one by each team, but each goalie came up with their most impressive saves of the game. The first one came off an Eastern corner kick ten minutes into the frame. The corner was cleared out to sophomore midfielder Linnea Reich (Middletown, CT), whose booming shot heading for the upper netting was tipped over the crossbar at the last second by Fernandez. Midway through the period, Labrecque mader her biggest save off a Western free kick. Junior back Lucy Daniels (Bethel, CT) sent the kick into the box, where DeVoe squarely headed it from close range, but right at Labrecque, stationed perfectly for the save.
Playing the game without two injured starters, Eastern lost three more during the contest, with junior midfielder Kaley Pratt (Milford, MA) being helped off eight minutes into action, senior back Michele D'Agata (West Suffield) coming off with 1:16 left in the first overtime, and Petersen leaving the game less than two minutes before the game-winning goal.
In an evenly-contest match, both teams had 16 shots and both keepers came up with three saves. The Warriors held a slim 5-3 edge in corner kicks.
"I am obviously thrilled with the outcome and have to give credit to the entire team," said WestConn second-year head coach Alex Harrison. "Autumn (Sorice) is a special player, but there are 25 young ladies on the this team that make something like this happen."