Stephanie StuartPhoto credit: James Ragan Photography

The fourth-ranked Florida Southern women’s lacrosse team scored the first seven goals of Sunday’s Sunshine State Conference championship game in Lakeland, beating fifth-ranked Florida Tech 15-7 and earning their third straight conference title.

Shannon Mazza led FSC with four goals, while Emily Santoli and Meghan O’Brien each registered a hat-trick. The Panthers got two goals apiece from Leah Dunn and Caroline Dunleavy.

The loss snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Panthers, with their only other loss coming to this Florida Southern team in their March regular-season meeting. The win moves Florida Southern to 19-1 overall and extends the Mocs’ win streak to seven. It also keeps their perfect home record intact, at 13-0.

This was a tough, physical game from the outset and Florida Southern was flying all over the field early. Panthers goalie Stephanie Stuart was under fire for much of the first half and she stood tall, making four early saves, despite constant pressure.

Mazza scored two of the first three goals less than five minutes apart for FSC to start the game, and had her hat-trick with 8:43 still remaining in the first half. Aleah Fjelstad scored for the Panthers to make it a 7-1 game with 12:49 to go and Dunleavy made it 8-2 with 6:25 left in the half.

Florida Tech (16-2) went to the half down six goals, but it certainly could have been worse. The Mocs’ had a couple shots go off the post in the first half and had one bang off the crossbar with 1:40 left, but for the most part, it was Stuart who kept the Panthers within shouting distance, as she made seven first-half saves.

The Panthers did not play bad defense in the half either, but Florida Southern was able to make some nice checks from behind, causing Florida Tech to turn it over 17 times in the first half. When you combine that with the fact that the home team won 10-of-11 draw controls, the Panthers had an uphill climb in front of them.

FSC goalie Alanna Zambetti was not tested much in the first half having to make just one save, but the Panthers made adjustments and got better looks in the second half. She was forced to make nine saves in the second half alone.

Dunn scored a goal 1:14 in to make it 8-3, but Zambetti made consecutive saves on Sam Schiano and Lauren Tybor less than a minute apart and with 26:27 to go, the score remained the same.

The two teams traded goals throughout the second half, but Santoli got man-up goals with 22:50 on the clock and again with 15:02 to go. At that point, it was an 11-5 advantage for the home team. 

The Panthers then got into trouble, as they were called for four penalties in just over 15 minutes to end the game. They were not playing dirty by any means, but it was crunch-time and they were forcing the issue.

Brittney Embree did score a man-down goal with 9:13 to go, cutting the deficit in half, 12-6. Florida Southern went on to score three of the final four goals, including O’Brien’s man-up tally that capped the scoring with 9.8 seconds left.

Florida Southern took 33 shots in the game, 26 of them were on cage, with Stuart making 11 saves. Florida Tech put 17 of their 25 shots on goal. FSC held a 37-28 advantage in ground balls and dominated draw controls, 21-3.

For more info: Florida Tech @ Florida Southern Box Score

Florida Tech players named to the All-Tournament team included Sam Schiano, Olivia Going, and Stephanie Stuart.¬†Florida Southern’s Sam Keesey named Most Outstanding Player.

The Panthers will now get ready for the opening round of NCAA tournament, slated to take place May 11-12, likely hosted by Florida Southern. Follow @sports_lowdown on Twitter for up-to-date information on who and when FIT will play.

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