Category archive: Fairfield Stags
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Patience is a virtue. So is perseverance. Luckily for head coach Bill Tierney, his Denver Pioneers have both in spades.
In a must-win matchup against ECAC foe Fairfield at Rentschler Field in the first game of the ESPNU Warrior Classic, the No. 17 Pioneers rallied after trailing for all but four minutes of the game to escape with a 9-8 win.
The win sets up a de facto ECAC championship game between Loyola and Denver at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium on May 2. The ECAC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, as well as the right to host the inaugural ECAC tournament in 2011, will be on the line.
Saturday's come-from-behind win against a Top 20 team should give Denver (10-4, 5-0) confidence heading into the showdown with the league-leading Greyhounds. It's the third such win for Denver, which started off the season with losses to Syracuse and Jacksonville before winning nine of the past 11. The Pioneers are riding a seven-game win streak; their last loss came at the hands of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
"Fairfield took it to us. I thought we'd need to get to 10 or 11 to win this one," said Tierney, whose team trailed 3-0 in the first quarter before junior middie Andrew Lay put the Pioneers on the board. "Our players have a lot of resolve, a lot of no-quit in them."
After taking a 5-3 deficit into halftime, Denver came out fired up in the third quarter. The first-half sloppiness -- bad clears, turnovers -- was a distant memory. Sophomore attackmen Alex Demopoulos and Mark Matthews tied the game in the first four minutes of the quarter, before Fairfield's Max Trunz and Brent Adams scored back-to-back goals to give the Stags the lead once again.
"We were hoping to get off to a better start, but we always have the confidence to step up when we get behind," said Demopoulos after the game. The crowd's support didn't hurt -- while Denver traveled the farthest for the Warrior Classic, the Pioneers boast a few New England natives (including Demopoulos, who's from Canton, Conn.) who helped fill the stands with Pioneer fans.
The slow pace that marked the first half -- and nearly lulled the crowd at Rentschler to sleep -- was abandoned in the fourth quarter as both teams fought for their conference lives. After trading shots on goal -- Denver's Peter Lowell recorded nine saves on the day, Fairfield's Joseph Marra finished with six -- freshman attackman Colin Scott caught a cross-goal pass from Charley Dickenson to tie the game at 7. It was short-lived, however, as Fairfield's Ryan Mulford put the Stags ahead with less than 7 minutes remaining.
"After halftime, we got back together and knew what we had to do," Scott said. "In the first half, Fairfield was slowing the ball, and as long as they hold it, we can't get it. We felt like we had to push it as much as we could."
The young Pioneers didn't panic. They continued to win the faceoff battle (13-of-21 on the game). Matthews followed up a miss with a clean shot to tie the game with 4:35 remaining. He scored the game-winner a minute later, taking his man one-on-one and getting a bounce shot by Marra.
"We have been in this position before. We've come from behind to win three times this season," Matthews said. "From the start of the season, we've been playing with pressure -- playing for a new coach, playing for your spot. That experience is helping us now."
Denver is hoping that its ability to play loose in tight spots and its confidence that it can beat ranked opponents will pay off on May 2, when the Pioneers try to win the first-ever ECAC championship.
Lauren Reynolds covers college sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
For the third year in a row, Oklahoma State opened the NCAA tournament far from its campus in Stillwater. Two years ago, the Cowgirls took a trip to Clemson for the first two rounds. Last year, they traveled to UCLA. This fall, despite being ranked No. 7 in the final regular-season top 25 poll, the Big 12 regular-season champions found themselves saddled with a No. 4 seed and a trip to New Jersey.
In each case, the trip to the tournament was the team's longest of the season.
And for the third year in a row, Oklahoma State came away with a first-round win after beating Fairfield 1-0 on a damp night in the Garden State.
"We don't get many favors from the committee when it comes to sending us [to the tournament]," Oklahoma State coach Colin Carmichael said with a rueful smile. "We understand that there are some rules in place when it comes to geography, and there's not enough schools around us [the NCAA tries to place as many teams as possible within driving range of a host site, classified as a 400-mile bus trip]. But my personal opinion is seed 16 teams and let them host, and if they're not able to host, then go elsewhere.
"Twelve of the 16 seeded teams are hosting; we're one of the ones that aren't. Last time we were seeded, we went to Clemson. So it's not great for our kids, and the ones I really feel for are the kids' parents. Most of them can't afford to travel like this, and that makes it tough. But you know, we do understand there's a formula in place, and we suck it up and deal with it."
Fairfield wasn't about to make the trip a pleasant one. The MAAC champions welcomed the Cowgirls to the I-95 corridor by offering about as much personal space as rush-hour drivers on the Jersey Turnpike. For much of the opening 45 minutes, Stags sophomore Nicole Cavallaro looked like the most dynamic offensive presence on the field, and Oklahoma State, with the nation's most prolific offense, looked out of sync.
"First half, as an attacking force, we just weren't very good," Carmichael said. "You have to give Fairfield credit for that; they disrupted our rhythm and did a good job of not allowing us to play."
Throw in a wet field on which slips were easier to string together than passes, and the 0-0 halftime score was at least as kind, if not kinder, to the favorite as the underdog. But when the Cowgirls finally began to string together passes early in the second half, culminating in Siera Strawser's goal off assists from Kasey Langdon and Yolanda Odenyo in the 54th minute, Oklahoma State had the goal it needed.
And if life on the road has taught the Cowgirls anything, it's that you've got to pack a defense in the postseason.
"I thought our two center backs were immense," Carmichael said of Melinda Mercado and Jessica Jarrell. "I thought they really did a good job. I mean, Fairfield created maybe three or four chances the whole game, and that's a credit to our back and our goalkeeper. They did a good job of controlling the [18-yard box].
It wasn't pretty, but as Carmichael told his team after the win while relaying news of conference peer Colorado's stunning loss against South Dakota State, it could have been worse. Not that this team needed a reminder. It's been here before. Wherever here is.