Liberty celebrates after Ashlee Krulock's (center) go-ahead goal against Davidson. (Photo courtesy of Red Rocket Photography)
The Liberty Lady Flames won their program-record eighth consecutive game, defeating the Davidson Wildcats, 3-1, in the semifinals of the 2012 NorPac Tournament. Liberty advances to Saturday's title game, which will be played at 1:30 p.m. against the winner of the Stanford versus California matchup.
Liberty has now won 13 out of its last 14 contests to improve to 16-5 overall. Davidson falls to 9-12 on the season and will play in tomorrow's consolation game at 11:30 a.m. Liberty nearly broke through first in the 10th minute against the Davidson defense. The Lady Flames worked the ball into the center of the circle to Abbey Basom. The freshman ripped the ball toward the goal, but Wildcats' goalie, Sarah Fisher, made a diving stop to keep the game scoreless.
The Lady Flames forced their first penalty corner of the contest in the 23rd minute of play. Hannah Jones inserted the ball to the stopper Elly Chipman, who pushed it to Natalie Barr. The Lady Flames leading scorer wound up and fired a shot on goal. The shot was deflected into the chest of a Davidson defender, which resulted in a penalty stroke for Liberty. Basom took the stroke and laced it past a lunging Fisher into the left side of the cage for her eighth goal of the season and a 1-0 Liberty lead.
Davidson tied the game at one less than three minutes later. Finley Amato's initial shot off of a penalty corner attempt for the Wildcats was blocked. Annie Davis collected the rebound and rolled a pass in front of the goal to Lucy Pidock, who knocked it into the back of the cage.
The score remained tied 1-1 heading into the halftime break. During the first half, Davidson held the slight edge over Liberty in shots, 5-4, and penalty corners, 4-2.
Liberty regained the lead 4:06 into the second half. Barr dribbled down the center of the field and into the top of the Davidson circle. Barr passed the ball left to Ashlee Krulock and the freshman lifted it over Fisher's pads into the back of the cage. Krulock's second goal of the season gave the Lady Flames a 2-1 advantage.
Davidson was turned away by the Liberty defense on its best scoring opportunity of the second half with 16:23 remaining in the contest. The Wildcats forced their first penalty corner of the second half and fifth of the game. Amato received the pass off of the insert from Annie Evans. Davidson's all-time leading scorer lined a shot toward the cage, but Liberty goalie Mallory Cuccio dove to her right and knocked the ball wide of the goal to keep the Lady Flames' lead intact.
Liberty extended its advantage in the 63rd minute. Jones once again inserted a penalty corner pass into the circle for the Lady Flames. The ball ended up on Helen Doolittle's stick and the sophomore fired a shot on goal. Fisher made the save, but her attempt to clear the ball ended up going to Liberty's Barr. The East Division Offensive Player of the Year gathered the ball and ripped it into the top of the cage for her team leading 16th goal of the year.
The Lady Flames' 3-1 lead held up as regulation time expired.
Liberty controlled the second half, outshooting Davidson, 13-4. For the game, the Lady Flames finished with 18 shots to the Wildcats' eight, while Davidson held the advantage in penalty corners, 6-4.
Liberty's defense led by Megan Johnson, Chipman, Jones, Doolittle and Krulock assisted in Cuccio's 11th win of the year in the cage. Thanks to the Lady Flames' defense behind her, Cuccio only faced two shots, collecting one save. Fisher tallied five saves in goal for Davidson.
The Lady Flames enter Saturday's title game as only the second team ever from the East Division to make it to the NorPac Championship tilt. The first time came in 2003 when Radford advanced to the final game.