DURHAM, N.H. – Senior forward Michelle Sheehan (Belmont, Mass.) scored with just under three minutes remaining to lift the University of New Hampshire women’s soccer team to Sunday afternoon’s 3-2 America East victory against the University of Vermont at Lewis Fields.
The Wildcats have now won two straight and four of their last five to improve to 5-8-1, including 4-1-0 in America East play. The Catamounts drop their fourth straight to fall to 2-12-0 overall and 0-4-0 in the conference.
After rallying from a two-goal deficit to tie the game at two, the Wildcats went ahead on Sheehan’s fifth goal of the season with just 2:53 to play in regulation. Just 7:48 after she checked back into the game, Sheehan received a bouncing ball in the box and tried to free herself from the Vermont defender who was draped over her. Sheehan had a touch on the ball, which ricocheted back-and-forth between Sheehan and the defender as Catamount goalkeeper Eliza Bradley came out to play the ball Sheehan put one final touch on the ball, which was enough to get it past both the defender and Bradley and into the back of the net.
UNH found itself in an early hole after two quick strikes by Vermont in the first 19 minutes. The Wildcats kept their composure, however, and worked as a unit to chip away at the Catamount lead. In the 35th minute, sophomore midfielder Amy Avitabile (Pembroke, Mass.) played a ball from the middle of the field down to the right flank where Bradley and junior midfielder Morgan Keefe (South Burlington, Vt.) raced to get to the ball. Bradley dove for the ball, but Keefe was there first and easily went around the down-and-out goalkeeper to fire the ball into the back of the net. Keefe’s tally not only got her squad back into the game against her hometown university, but it was also the first goal of her collegiate career.
The Wildcats struck again just 1:16 later when Avitabile set up another UNH score. Avitabile’s cross from the right sideline found freshman midfielder Carole LeBlanc (Grand-Digue, New Brunswick) behind the defense on the left side of the box, allowing LeBlanc to boot the ball into the left corner of the net to tie the game at two with 9:00 left on the clock in the first half. The two assists put Avitabile into a tie for the team lead with six.
UNH has now won five straight against the Catamounts and are unbeaten in the last six meetings between the two squads.
The Wildcats had a couple of good chances in the second half, before Sheehan notched the game-winner. In the 46th minute, LeBlanc tried to set up a goal of her own when she found Sheehan on the right side of the box, but Bradley came out and covered up the ball before Sheehan could do anything with it. Then in the 69th minute, junior midfielder Shaunna Kaplan (Framingham, Mass.) received a feed in the middle of the box from senior midfielder Caitlin Whelan (Weymouth, Mass.), but as she was about to pop the ball over the charging goalkeeper and into the vacant net, Bradley was able to get a piece of it and knock it away.
UNH, which outshot Vermont, 21-16, including 10-5 in the second half, came out of the gates clicking on all cylinders and totally controlled the first minute of play. Just 30 seconds in, Kaplan’s cross from the right corner caromed off a defender and right to Whelan, who had a good look at the net, but blasted the ball over the crossbar.
Things changed quickly for both sides when Vermont jumped on to the scoreboard just 1:42 later. From the right corner, Erin Pichiotino served the ball into the box where it took two big hops that both Vermont forward Jessica Becker and UNH goalkeeper Nikki Golding (Milton, Mass.) had to negotiate. Becker settled the ball and caught Golding going the wrong way as she put the ball into the right corner of the net. The goal, which seemed to stun UNH, was Vermont’s first in its four conference games this season.
In the 19th minute, Vermont stretched its lead to two when Lexie Kaknes’ shot forced Golding to make a diving stop, leaving the left side of the goal open. The rebound came out to Carson Laderoute, who booted the ball towards the left side, but freshman back Elizabeth Curry (Bremerton, Wash.) plugged the hole to make the save for the Wildcats. The referee ruled that the ball had crossed the goal line, however, and awarded the Catamounts a goal.
Golding made five saves for the Wildcats, while junior Ally Yost (Langhorne, Pa.), who started the second half in net for UNH, made three saves. Bradley stopped six shots for the Catamounts.
The Wildcats return to action Thursday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. when they hit the road to do battle with Boston University in a rematch of last season’s America East title game. The ‘Cats return to Durham for their final home match Sunday, Oct. 19 at 1 p.m. when they play host to the University of Hartford on Senior Day.