Fairfield, CT -- The Sacred Heart Pioneers will play host to the 2012 Northeast Conference Championship as the #1 seed thanks to a come from behind 10-9 victory over visiting Central Connecticut State Sunday afternoon in the regular season finale. The Pioneers overcame a 9-5 halftime deficit, shutting out the Blue Devils in the second half on the way to claiming a share of the NEC Regular Season Championship along with Quinnipiac and the right to host this year's tournament. SHU extends their streak to seven-straight seasons qualifying for the NEC postseason.
The 2012 NEC Tournament is slated for Friday, April 27th and Sunday, April 29th. The Pioneers will be the #1 seed and face #4 seeded Mount St. Mary's in the first game on Friday. The #2 seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats will face #3 seeded Monmouth in game two. Game times will be announced on Monday. The winners will face-off in Sunday's championship game.
This is the fourth time that Sacred Heart will host the NEC Tournament. Campus Field played host to the tournament in 2003, 2009 and 2010. The Pioneers will be looking to capture their fourth title in the last five years (2008, 2009, 2010).
The Pioneers (8-8, 7-2 NEC) kept the Blue Devils (7-9, 5-4 NEC) off the scoreboard for the final 30 minutes while limiting the CCSU offense to just five shots. On the flip side, SHU tacked on five goals from five different players to dig out of their halftime hole en route to the win in what amounted to a playoff game with the winner moving and the loser seeing their season end.
Junior Emily Pepe (East Quogue, NY) was the Pioneers top-playmaker scoring twice and assisting on six SHU goals. Pepe's eight points and six assists were both career highs for the junior attacker who also set a new Sacred Heart school record for assists in a season with 43 after Sunday's win. Pepe breaks the mark of 38 set by Mary Montesarchio during the 2008 campaign.
It was SHU who jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and led 4-3 midway through the first half before CCSU took control and built a four-goal lead. Pepe got the scoring started at 28:27 and then assisted on a Kate Kmiotek (Farmingville, NY) tally just 1:06 later. Consecutive goals by sophomore Kelsey Russo (Lindenhurst, NY) gave the Pioneers a 4-3 lead with 16:50 on the clock.
Central's Meaghan McCurry had a monster first half with four goals, her third tying the game at 4-4 with 13:46 left and starting a 5-1 Blue Devil run to close the half. Mackenzy Ryan gave the Blue Devils their first lead at 5-4 just 30 seconds later converting on an 8-meter attempt. SHU senior Katie Gerhard (Centennial, CO) scored the final Pioneer goal of the first half off a feed from Pepe at 12:45, to knot the game at 5-5.
CCSU closed the first half scoring four-straight, starting with an Ashley Mara marker at 10:57. The Blue Devil run was capped with just seven seconds left at Betsy Vendel took a lead pass to goal from Ashley Perkoski and buried it to put Central up 9-4 at the half and 30 minutes away from claiming their first ever NEC Tournament berth.
The Pioneers dominated the second half, out shooting Central 14-5 while turning them over five times to set the stage for the comeback. SHU took advantage of four second half CCSU yellow cards, scoring on all four man-up opportunities. Pepe had a hand in all five second half goals, assisting on four and scoring one herself. She started the rally setting up Kmiotek just three minutes into play.
Freshman Taylor Babin (Ellicott City, MD) scored her first of the day at 25:37 and Pepe followed off a pass from from Russo at 23:15 to pull the Pioneers within 9-8. After cutting the deficit down to a goal, it looked as if the momentum would swing back to Central as SHU's Russo was issued her second yellow card of the game and disqualified at 22:59. The Pioneers kept their composure and continued to hold the Blue Devils at bay.
SHU leading scorer Aurelie Pluijmakers (Freehold, NJ) got her first goal of the game with 16:49 left, pulling the Pioneers back even at 9-9. After one SHU senior tied it, another provided the game-winner as Alyssa Dorsey (Farmingdale, NY), who sang the National Anthem as part of the pre-game Senior Day ceramonies, buried her 10th goal of the season to make the comeback complete. CCSU's Vendel was issued a yellow card at 16:11 and Pepe and the Pioneers took advantage as the junior attack found Dorsey for what would be the game winner at 15:29.
From there, Sacred Heart controlled the ball, allowing just two Central shots the rest of the way. The Blue Devils did get a late turnover and chance to tie, but a shot by Ashley Perkoski hit the cross bar and a final attempt by Vendel never materialized after she was called for stepping the crease in the final seconds.
Both goalies were impressive as SHU's Kelly Keenan made four of her six saves in the second half to earn the win. CCSU's Erin Delancey stopped 12 shots for the Blue Devils.