USM lax teams lose at home

Both University of Saint Mary lacrosse teams headed into Wednesday doubleheader against rivals Ottawa with wins in mind, not only to get one over on the Braves, but to solidify positioning in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) as the league tournament comes to Leavenworth in three weeks.

Consider the evening a let down for both teams.

The men saw a third-quarter lead evaporate and then ultimately dropped a shock, 12-11 decision to the Braves, while the women were locked in a close one at halftime before falling, 14-5, to their rivals.

In the men’s match, the Spires saw a Ottawa team desperate for a win after coming in at 0-3 in KCAC play and 1-5 overall against a nationally-ranked USM team.

A loss for Ottawa would likely have knocked Ottawa out of playoff contention.

“It was a pretty sloppy game, we didn’t execute like we needed to,” USM head men’s coach Matt Kimsey said. “They are a scrappy team and we knew they would play hard.What was killing us was transition - a lot of easy goals that we gave up with guys not stopping ball in team transition. Things did not go our way and we were definitely not able to overcome and take advantages of opportunities that came our way. In the KCAC you bring it every night or you will get beat. Ottawa played hard.

“This was a big game for them too. They played in a lot of close games – and good teams really close. They definitely came to play.”

Despite being a nice-sized underdog, the Braves hung tough, trailing 4-2 after the first quarter and pulling to within 7-6 right before the halftime break.

Cory Wunderlich scored twice for the Spires (7-3, 1-1) in the first half while the rest of the goals came via five other USM players.

The Spires looked ready to break it open after the break, scoring the first two goals to go up 9-6, but Ottawa would answer with a double whammy of its own to pull within one just four minutes into the third quarter.

The teams would enter the final 15 minutes with Saint Mary clinging to a 10-9 lead.

Ottawa took the final lead about four minutes at 6:55 of the fourth quarter and then both teams battled to get that final burst, but neither could, leading to a tense finish.

The Braves had chances to ice the game, but turnovers made it possible for USM to give itself an opportunity to extend the match.

A game-tying goal with 37 seconds looked to have occurred, sparking a premature USM celebration before everyone realized that the shot had indeed missed.

Ottawa goaltender Pearson Willis made three tremendous saves in the final two minutes, two of which came on the final USM possessions with shots looking like sure overtime table setters.

“We started well, but credit to Ottawa, they answered,” Kimsey said. “Their goalie made some big saves. He’s a good goalie. He made a couple of big ones for sure.”

With a golden opportunity to inch closer to a KCAC conference tournament berth for the first time in program history, the USM women fell 14-5 to Ottawa in a performance that disappointed the Spires' head coach.

"It was a little frustrating, I thought we could play better, especially toward the second half," USM head coach Rainey Whitworth said. "There was a moment where we crumbled and then I don't think we recovered from that. Today, it was mentality.

"We just need to get back at it in practice tomorrow. It's giving girls the reassurance and confidence that we can still do this."

The Spire women came out playing stingy defense and able to play a possession game even if the scoreboard didn't reflect any true offensive proficiency.

The two teams were locked in a tight, 1-1 battle until the teams got going on the offensive end, with each scoring twice before the halftime buzzer.

Hannah Byrd, Karissa Proctor and Sara Griffith all scored once in the first 30 minutes of a 3-3 tie.

Then things went south after the break.

Ottawa scored the first four goals of the second half, before Spire Rachel Campbell stopped the bleeding but the Braves didn't settle.

Ottawa would again, go on a 4-goal run to put the game out of reach, 11-4 with just over 10 minutes left in the game.

"The draw was huge today," Whitworth said. "We needed to win more draw controls especially in the second half. Defensively, I didn’t think there were enough crash calls."

Proctor would score her second goal with 7:43 remaining for USM, but the game was out of reach at that point.

Now at 3-5 overall and 2-2 in KCAC play, the Spires host Saint Ambrose in league play needed to win two of their last three such contests to have a better chance at qualifying for the postseason tournament for the first time.

"We will be alright, we just need a major reset and go from there," Whitworth said. "We need to play our game the rest of the time. We need to fix ground balls, draw controls and overall defense."