Sophomore defender Nicole Pineda took off on a sprint with the draw control still unsettled, the ball rolling toward the College’s net.
Pineda pumped her arms and kicked up rubber, but she was just a step too late as Franklin & Marshall College’s Erin Dunne scooped up the ball and sent it off to senior attacker Lauren Ehrhardt, who guided the ball into the net.
That goal only put the No. 8-ranked Diplomats up 12-10, but it was all they needed to revoke the Lions’ momentum in a contest that ended in a 16-12 loss for the No. 3-ranked Lions, snapping their 18-game winning streak at home.
“It was a tough loss. A lot of it had to do with ball control and turnovers,” junior attacker Alex Spark said. “We had a lot of turnovers that shouldn’t have happened which gave (Franklin & Marshall) an advantage.”
The Lions, who just last week upset No. 1-ranked Gettysburg College, struggled out of the gate as the Diplomats propelled themselves to a 5-1 lead.
The Lions attempted to battle back in the opening half, scoring five goals — three of which came on free-position attempts by Spark. However, for every goal or run the Lions threw at the Diplomats, Franklin & Marshall answered, never letting the Lions’ deficit dip below three for the remainder of the first half.
“We needed more communication in general, however what we really needed to do was physically put more pressure on them to stop the fast goals,” junior defender Becky Gilman said.
Nevertheless, head coach Sharon Pfluger’s squad was anything but defeated when the second half opened up. Trailing 10-6, the Lions started to showcase the same tenacity that they brought to the table against Gettysburg.
The Diplomats won the opening draw — one of 20 draw controls won by them on the day — but the Lions caught a break when a Diplomat shot knocked off the post. The Lions took that advantage and charged down the field.
Senior midfielder Kathleen Notos, who was held scoreless for the first time this season, sent a shot high, but Spark made a gutsy, hustle play and kept possession for the Lions. Fellow junior attacker Trenna Hill cashed in on Spark’s determination with a goal, setting the score at 10-7.
After Hill’s goal, Spark took over offensively for the Lions. Sophomore midfielder Lauren Pigott snagged the following draw control, but it was Spark who finished the possession with her fifth goal of the game, coming off an assist from senior midfielder Leigh Mitchell, who recently became the program’s all-time leader in career points.
The Diplomats grabbed the next two draw controls, but the Lions were able to force turnovers. Spark netted goals on both possessions — a free-position and an unassisted — to tie the score at 10 all.
“I was able to lose my defender a couple times when I was cutting through the eight,” said Spark, who has scored 22 goals in the last three games. “But I was also face guarded during the game and the girl marking me was detaining my cuts, which is an automatic free position and I was able to capitalize on those free shots.”
Although the scenario seemed very “Gettysburgesque,” the final stretch was more identical to a 9-8 loss earlier in the season to SUNY-Cortland.
The Lions, who turned the ball over 11 times — the most in one game since they lost to Cortland — and lost six out of last eight draw controls, could not keep possession and were outscored 6-2 in the last 19:55 of the contest.
“After we finally tied the game, it was critical to get ahead and keep the momentum, and we failed to do that,” Mitchell said. “We struggled with draw controls and gave up a few quick goals that put us right back down again.”
Spark’s run was followed by a score by Dunne, which took a mere 45 seconds, and the all-or-nothing sprint for the draw between Dunne and Pineda.
Mitchell scored after those two goals to make it a 12-11 game, but once the Diplomats reestablished their lead, they shut the Lions down with a strong defensive front, according to Spark.
“They were marking up players very tightly and had a high-energy defense, which made it difficult (to score),” Spark said.
Although the Lions’ defense struggled in the loss to the Diplomats, Gilman looks at this game as a lesson in which the Lions picked up some valuable tips.
“We have already watched and analyzed the game and I am 100 percent confident that we will fix any mistakes and come back strong,” Gilman said.
The Lions will certainly need a robust rebound with the No. 1–ranked Salisbury University coming to Lions’ Stadium on Friday, April 13.
The Lions will return to action this weekend as they participate in the Sam Howell Invitational at Princeton University.