The University of Maine wasn’t the better team in its America East field hockey championship game against Albany on Sunday afternoon.
But the Black Bears had Mia Borley.
The America East Goalkeeper of the Year made seven saves and allowed just one goal on five attempts in the shootout as UMaine captured its first ever league tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth by outscoring the Great Danes 2-1 in the shootout in front of more than 400 energetic fans at the UMaine field hockey complex.
UMaine is now 15-6. The team was set to learn late Sunday night who its NCAA Tournament first-round opponent would be.
Albany finished at 11-9.
The teams were tied 1-1 after regulation and two 10-minute sudden death overtimes.
It appeared as though America East Rookie of the Year Alison Smisdom had won it for Albany with two seconds left in the second overtime when she beat Borley with a reverse stick shot off a penalty corner, but the goal was waved off because it hit an Albany leg on its way to the cage.
Poppy Lambert supplied UMaine with a 1-0 lead off a penalty stroke for her 15th goal of the season early in the second quarter.
But Charlotte Triggs supplied Albany with a deserved equalizer as she rifled a shot from the top of the circle off Borley’s pad and into the cage for her fourth of the season. Elaina Burchell set her up with a nice cross-field pass.
In the shootout, each team has five shooters and they each have eight seconds to get off a shot after starting with the ball 25 yards out. They alternate between teams.
Julia Ross used a nifty spin-around move before flipping the ball high into the cage past Albany freshman goalie Lara Behn to give UMaine a 1-0 lead.
Chloe Walton also maneuvered around Behn before planting her shot off the inside of the post and in.
Floor de Ruiter converted with a high flip for Albany, but that was the only goal the aggressive Borley was to allow as she made a pad save and an extended stick save and Albany missed the net twice.
“A goalie has the power to dominate in the shootout. They only have eight seconds so they’re going to have to make a decision,” said Borley, who was chosen the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “If I can force them to go to my strong side or I can get into their heads, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Albany generated 17 shot attempts to UMaine’s 11 and had an 8-6 edge in shots on goal.
The Great Danes, who started eight freshmen and sophomores, used their superior quickness and exceptional stick skills to control play, giving UMaine very little time and space on the ball and triggering counter attacks after forcing turnovers.
Their passes were crisper.
But UMaine, thanks to America East Midfielder of the Year Cassandra Mascarenhas, defended well and relied on Borley when the Great Danes did penetrate the circle.
“I play better when I get more shots. It gets me focused. I want to come through for the team when they need me,” Borley said.
She also said her team defended very well in front of her.
“I couldn’t ask for any more from my defense,” said Borley.
Lambert’s penalty stroke was created by a series of penalty corners resulting in an infraction.
Lambert, who had a penalty stroke saved in the 2-1 win over California in the semifinals, came through this time with a well-placed stroke to Behn’s right.
Albany coach Phil Sykes said he was proud of how his Great Danes played in front of a large crowd cheering on the Black Bears.
“We hit the post four times. We were unlucky not to get the win. But Maine has had such a good season and it was a great game, ” he said.