STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – The Sacred Heart field hockey team closed its season with a 2-1 loss in the Northeast Conference semifinals to top-seeded Fairfield on Friday afternoon from the campus of Wagner College. Kelsy Hopkins was the goal-scorer for the fourth-seeded Pioneers (5-15, 3-3 NEC), who gave the nationally-ranked Stags (17-2, 6-0 NEC) everything they could handle throughout the course of play.
Playing in the postseason for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-08, the future of SHU field hockey is bright after giving a Fairfield squad, who came in winners of their last nine straight, a considerable challenge for the second straight time this season (SHU lost to Fairfield in overtime on Oct. 4).
The Pioneers held the league's highest-scoring offense without a goal and to just four shots (one on-target) in the first half of play. The shutout streak lasted into the fourth quarter before Fairfield's Madison Hoskins deflected in a Luzi Persiehl shot from distance on a Stag penalty corner.
The Stags' lead was short-lived as SHU answered just over three minutes later off the stick of Hopkins. Pressing on defense, SHU forced Fairfield into a turnover deep in the Stags' defensive half of the field. Colleen McAninley corralled the loose ball just outside the circle, carried in and fired a pass to the center where two Pioneers were waiting. With plenty of pace on the pass, Hopkins had a difficult job landing her stick on the ball but the senior was up to the task as her second goal of the season tied the score at 1-1 in the 49th minute.
Even with the added pressure from the Hopkins answer, Fairfield's pressure intensified in the SHU defensive circle and led to a decisive foul call that became a penalty stroke for the Stags. Emma Matlach stepped up and buried her penalty shot into the right side of the cage to make it 2-1 with 7:33 remaining.
A prime scoring opportunity for the Pioneers less than a minute following the Matlach strike as Kayla Kruk fired in a pair of shots on-net. The first was kicked aside by Stag goalkeeper Zoe Rosen but the second attempt off the rebound was brilliantly turned away by defender Emily Halderson as the crucial defensive save proved the difference in the end.
Hailey Power, the 2019 NEC Goalkeeper of the Year, made five saves in the cage for SHU while senior defender Bridget Kelly upped her nation-leading defensive save total to 15 on the season as she added two more in her final collegiate game. Kelly will almost certainly finish as the nation's leader in defensive saves, an incredible honor for the All-NEC First Team selection.
SHU has a bright future ahead as the Pioneers return 19 letterwinners from this season in 2020 after having made the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-08.