Florida Tech goaltender Chloe Zador tied a career-high with 17 saves on Saturday, leading the Florida Tech Panthers to a 10-7 win over Saint Leo on Senior Day at Florida Tech Panther Stadium. It was the final regular season game for both squads.
“We kind of knew that the season came down to this game, and we knew what we had to put into it,” said Panthers coach McKenzie Rafferty. “That’s the best lacrosse I’ve seen them play. I think they were for the most part very smooth with the ball in transitions both on offense and defense and came up big.”
The Florida Tech faithful bid farewell to five seniors prior to Saturday’s game as Leah Dunn, Brittney Embree, Cristina Marani, Sam Schiano, and Jenna Katrina all played their final home game for the Panthers.
“Playing for our seniors really pumped our girls up,” Rafferty said. “It brought them to another level.”
Dunn led the Panthers offense with three goals. Aleah Fjelstad, Mollie Kaplan, and Alexis Townsend had two goals each, and Kailee O’Brien dished out three assists. Marani also had an assist, as did Kaplan and Fjelstad.
This was a close game throughout with each team firing off 34 shots, 17 per period for both sides. The Panthers held a 28-24 advantage in shots on goal.
Townsend got the Panthers going early, with a goal 1:50 into the contest. The assist went to Kaplan. Townsend struck again about 2 1/2 minutes later, on a feed from O’Brien. giving the Panthers a 2-0 lead. That gave her 22 goals for the season.
The Lions (13-4, 2-4 SSC) got on the board with a man-down goal from Janee DeLuca. She would score again 27 seconds later, tying the game 2-2.
Dunn would break the tie with her first of the game, coming with 20:40 left in the first half. Caroline McLeod would stretch it to a 4-2 lead when she was able to score off a rebound, that came after Saint Leo goalie Erin Davis made the initial save.
Fjelstad struck again with 5:48 left, to make it 5-2 before Lexie Walstad beat Zador with 44.4 seconds left, closing the gap to 5-3 before the break.
Despite the late goal, Zador made eight saves in the first half. Davis was forced to make 10 saves, as the Panthers offense pressure was good throughout the first 30 minutes.
Brittney Embree went over 100 ground balls in her Florida Tech career in that first half. She finished the day with five.
Leslie Ferguson made it a 5-4 game, scoring 3:12 into the second half. It took nine minutes for the next goal to be scored and that came out of the stick of Dunn, her second of the day, and 35th of the season. The assist on that goal went to Fjelstad.
Fjelstad would score her second of the night 41 seconds after the Dunn goal, and that made it 7-4 Panthers.
Saint Leo would get back-to-back goals from Ferguson and a tally from Kaylah Walstad in a span of about 7:20, and just like that, the game was tied 7-7.
Florida Tech (7-8, 2-4 SSC) would regain the lead as Kaplan found the back of the net with 3:59 left. She would score again 22 seconds later, giving the Panthers a 9-7 lead. Dunn capped the scoring with her hat-trick goal, giving the Panthers a three-goal cushion with 36 seconds to go.
Injury News: With 3:37 to go in the game, Sam Schiano was pulled from the game after sustaining an injury to her upper body. She was sporting a nice wrap job and plenty of ice after the game.
“They’re still working on what’s going on,” said Rafferty after the game. “It’s still fresh, so we’re trying to figure out what’s going on.”
For more info: Saint Leo @ Florida Tech Box Score
Zador topped her eight save first half, with a nine-save second half. That matched her highest save total of the season when she had 17 against Rollins on April 6.
“Chloe’s had a great year here so far,” said Rafferty. “When she first started out, she was still learning the ropes a little bit of being a leader, being a captain. Every time she comes up with a big save, and comes up big, it just pushes the team to another level.”
Florida Tech won the ground ball battle 35-26, but all of the other statistics were pretty even. As mentioned, shots were even, draw controls were in favor of Saint Leo 10-9, saves were 18-17 in favor of the Lions, and turnovers were 17-16, with Florida Tech turning it over the extra time.
The Panthers win, coupled with Tampa’s 20-8 win over Embry-Riddle later in the day, helped the Panthers punch their ticket to the Sunshine State Conference tournament. Florida Tech will have a tough task ahead, meeting top-seeded Florida Southern on Thursday, April 25 in Lakeland. The opening draw is set for 7:00 p.m.
“This was definitely a possibility we considered at the beginning of the season,” Rafferty said of her teams’ playoff chances at the beginning of the season. “We’ve done everything in our power to put ourselves in a great position.”
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