March 2, 2013

Gators Avenge Final Four Loss, Chomp Orange in Miami

by Joel Delgado | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

Florida's Nora Barry (14) chipped in an assist as the Gators improved to 7-0 and avenged a loss in last year's final four by beating Syracuse at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
© Matt Dunn

MIAMI — With a perfect record at stake and the memory of a crushing overtime loss to the Syracuse Orange in last year's final four still lingering, the Florida Gators came into Saturday feeling they had something to prove in their rematch with the Orange.

Consider it done.

The second-ranked Gators defeated the fourth-ranked Orange 14-10 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami in the Orange Bowl Lacrosse Classic, putting their final four loss behind them once and for all.

For Florida, the win was another step in what has been the best start in the young program's history: a 7-0 record and a victory over the national runner-up.

"This year is a whole new year. Last year was last year. This is all about 2013," Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said. "We played really well across the board tonight."

The Gators took control from the outset, jumping out to a 3-0 lead early on in the game with goals from sophomore midfielder Shannon Gilroy, senior attacker Gabi Wiegand, and senior attacker Ashley Bruns.

On the other side of the field, the Orange had difficulty penetrating the Gators defense, failing to record a shot on goal in the opening six minutes of play.

That was until the Orange took advantage of a Florida foul that led to a free-position for senior attacker Michelle Tumolo. Junior Alyssa Murray received a quick pass from Tumolo in front of the goal circle and fired a point black shot to put the Orange on the board.

But poor goaltending hurt Syracuse too much in the first half, while the Gators utilized their speed to create numerous scoring chances.

After the Gators took a 7-3 lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half, Syracuse coach Gary Gait decided to make a change in goal, pulling goalkeeper Alyssa Costantino, who recorded just one save on eight shots on goal faced, for Kelsey Richardson.

"It's happened a couple times this year, she just hasn't found her groove yet this year," Gait said of Costantino, who was one of the nation's top keepers in 2012, usually splitting halves with Richardson.

Tumolo scored three goals in the first half for the Orange, keeping Syracuse within striking distance for most of the first half. But two unassisted Florida goals in the final two minutes of the first 30 minutes, including a goal with seven seconds remaining, put a damper on Syracuse's comeback effort.

"We tried to make runs, but when you're down by four goals and trying to battle back, it makes it mentally much tougher. It makes a big difference," Gait said.

The Gators picked up where they left off in the first half, with senior attacker Kitty Cullen picking up an unassisted goal to give Florida its largest lead of the game at 11-6 with 27:32 to go.

Syracuse, in attempt to recreate its improbable comeback in last year's final four matchup against Florida, scored three unanswered goals to pull within two with 19 minutes left.

But the Gators refused to break, answering with three straight goals of their own, coming from the trio of Gilroy, Cullen and Bruns.

"When a team starts coming back, we just have to take a deep breath and focus on us," Cullen said. "We can't harp on what's happened; we just have to keep playing our game."

Cullen finished with a team-high four goals while Gilroy added three more and an assist for the Gators. Both have been instrumental for Florida in the early stages of their season.

"That game in the final four last year and that feeling is always going to be in the back in our minds, but we got the win and now it's on to the next one."

— Florida's Kitty Cullen

"Shannon [Gilroy] is just picking up where she left off last year and has a rocket of a shot," O'Leary said. "And Kitty [Cullen] is as fast as any kid I've ever coached. She has great speed and has an eye for the goal. Give her a step and she's going to take it."

Florida goalkeeper Mikey Meagher, who grew up with Syracuse as her hometown team, delivered a strong performance in net for the Gators, earning the praises of her coach and teammates after making several key saves down the stretch. Meagher finished eight saves, five of which came in the second half.

"She did a great job in the goal cage at the end, coming up with some huge saves," O'Leary said of her keeper.

After the final whistle blew, the Gators celebrated the win behind their own net, enjoying their seventh victory of the season. It brought a sense of closure to their defeat at the hands of the Orange last year.

"This win feels good," Cullen said. "That game in the final four last year and that feeling is always going to be in the back in our minds, but we got the win and now it's on to the next one."

Thul Breaks Army Scoring Record Against Michigan

Saturday night's Army-Michigan men's matchup might as well have been called "The Garrett Thul Show".

Not only did Thul skewer the Michigan defense for seven goals in Army's 12-1 victory over the Wolverines at Sun Life Stadium in Game 2 of the Orange Bowl Classic, but he also broke Army's career goals record set by Scott Finlay, a record that stood since 1978.

All in all, not a bad night for the senior attackman from New Jersey.

"It's awesome. That's a record that stood for 34 years... that's a long time for any kind of record to stand and to break it now is pretty incredible," Thul said.

Thul opened scoring for the Black Knights early in the first quarter and by halftime had scored five of the Black Knights' six first half goals. His seventh goal of the evening came with 7:12 left in the fourth quarter, bringing his career total to 141 and eclipsing Finlay's record of 140.

"I'm tremendously proud of him, he's been a pillar in our program since the day he walked on campus," Army coach Joe Alberici said. "I have so much respect for the Army tradition and the great players that have come before him. For him to have this record is something special; it says a lot about him and the players he plays with."


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