DURHAM, N.H. – Senior forward Hayley Rausch (Severna Park, Md.) scored a late game-winning goal to propel the No. 10 University of New Hampshire field hockey team to Friday afternoon's 1-0 victory against No. 12 University at Albany in a 2011 America East Championship semifinal game at Memorial Field.
UNH, the America East regular-season co-champions and tournament top seed, improves to 16-4 overall and 8-1 at home. Albany, which had defeated the Wildcats each of the previous three years in the league tourney, is now 13-7.
New Hampshire will play second-seeded and 17th-ranked Boston University, which recorded a 4-0 victory against 13th-ranked University of Maine in the other semifinal. The title game is Nov. 6 (1 p.m.) at Memorial Field.
Rausch, a 2011 America East All- Conference First Team selection, tallied the score in the 68th minute of play and has now scored a goal in six of the last seven games. Whitney Frates (Woodstock, Vt.), the America East Offensive Player of the Year, initiated the scoring sequence by advancing along the right wing and hitting an entry pass into the right side of the circle. Emma Erler (New Hampton, N.H.) centered the ball past UA goalkeeper Kristi Troch and Rausch redirected the waist-high ball into the open cage at 67:14 for her team-leading 23rd goal of the season.
Albany called time out at that point, but neither team recorded a shot the rest of the way as the Wildcats effectively kept the visitors out of the circle.
The Great Danes held the edge in shots with a 6-5 advantage. The Wildcats claimed a 4-0 edge in the second frame. Penalty corners were even at four apiece.
UNH goalkeeper Katherine Nagengast (Westborough, Mass.), a Second Team honoree, recorded four saves and her fourth shutout of the season – third against a nationally-ranked team. The Wildcats have shut out six opponents this season.
UA's Troch, the America East Goalkeeper of the Year for the second consecutive season, was credited with three saves.
Neither team was able to generate offense in the opening five minutes of the game. The Great Danes finally recorded a shot in the eighth minute when Chantae Miller, from the middle of the circle, struck the ball towards the cage but Nagengast, who had charged from the goal line, directed the ball aside.
UNH's first scoring opportunity occurred in the 10th minute on a penalty corner, but the shot by Megan Bozek (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.) was blocked.
Albany quickly countered at the other end of the field but Nagengast turned aside two bids off the stick of Daphne Voormolen.
The Great Danes generated a penalty corner in the 30th minute, and Taylor Luke's low, hard, direct shot towards the left post was deflected away by Nagengast's blocker on a diving effort.
UA's Erin Crosson struck a ball from close range into the cage in the 50th minute, but the goal was disallowed due to an infraction against Crosson in which she was not spaced 5-meters from a UNH defender playing a high ball.
In the 53rd minute, Frates' dangerous shot from the right wing was stopped by Troch, but the Wildcats sustained pressure and Rausch slid a pass from the middle of the circle towards the left post. Melyssa Woods (Glens Falls, N.Y.) lost her balance, however, and was unable to gain possession or get a shot.
In the 59th minute, Albany's Christina Patrick gained possession behind UNH's defense on a lifted pass through the midfield. She maneuvered from the left wing towards the top of the circle and lost control of the ball when she attempted to shift past a Wildcat defender.
UNH's only America East tournament title was in 1998. Sunday's game will mark the program's seventh championship game appearance.