The NCAA Tournament is supposed to create moments that will be remembered forever.
But that was something else.
In a back-and-forth first round game for the ages, Penn and Penn State women’s lacrosse needed six extra minutes to decide whose season would live on. But after Quakers freshman Zoe Belodeau finished her fifth goal of the evening with only 1.8 seconds left in the second overtime, it was the Red and Blue who would survive after winning an instant classic, 15-14, game over the Nittany Lions on Friday at Stony Brook.
“I don’t think you ever expect overtime. You expect that Penn State is a really good team, and we knew that those kids were not gonna give up,” Penn coach Karin Corbett told Skyler Gilbert of CollegeCrosse.com. “It could’ve been either team’s game, and I think both teams should be really proud of themselves; it was a battle like we thought it would be.”
Almost exactly two years after Penn State eliminated the Quakers from the 2016 NCAA Tournament in an 8-4 defensive battle — the last game Penn would ever play before the NCAA instituted a 90-second shot clock — it was clear that the tone of this game would be different. Immediately.
The No. 16 Nittany Lions (10-10, 3-3 Big Ten) opened up leads of 2-0 and 4-2 early, but No. 14 Penn (14-4, 6-1 Ivy) turned the game around soon after. Six different Quakers scored in the first half, four of them doing it twice, and the balanced Red and Blue offense helped propel an 8-2 run that forced Penn State starting goalie Lucy Lowe out of the game.
Penn led by as many as four in the first half, but no lead would prove to be safe in this shootout. Though the Nittany Lions’ goalies were thoroughly outplayed by Penn’s Mikaila Cheeseman — who finished with 13 saves, compared to Penn State’s combined five — the Lions showed off their athleticism by forcing 17 Penn turnovers to claw back into the game.
Belodeau scored perhaps her most impressive goal of the season with a behind-the-back score to give lead back to the Quakers with just over four minutes left, but then Penn State senior Katie O’Donnell’s fifth and final goal came with only 22 seconds left in regulation, tying the score at 14 apiece to send the contest to extra time.
Yet even one sudden death three-minute session wasn’t enough, as Cheeseman continued her stellar day with a point-blank save. And in the second extra frame, Penn’s breakout sophomore was there again, stopping an O’Donnell shot across her body to give the Quakers possession when it counted most.
“We knew this was gonna be a really close game, and this time of year is all about when it gets close and exciting,” Cheeseman said. “I would have to rank it as number one; it was the most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of.”
And on that possession, the Red and Blue would finally break through. After the Quakers drew a foul, senior Caroline Cummings found Belodeau from behind the net, and the freshman scored the most significant of her program rookie record 43 goals, sending Penn into absolute mayhem as it kept its season alive.
“It’s pretty surreal; just being here and playing in the tournament is surreal, watching NCAA Tournaments while growing up, growing up dreaming of playing in it,” Belodeau said. “Just being here alone is a surreal experience, let alone being part of a game-winning goal — it’s pretty crazy.”
The Quakers’ next task will be even harder, as the Quakers will take on No. 5 seed Stony Brook (19-0, 7-0 America East), the nation’s lone undefeated team which stands at No. 1 in the coaches’ poll despite its controversially low seeding. The Seawolves are led by senior Kylie Ohlmiller, the all-time NCAA leader in both points and assists and the favorite to win this year’s Tewaaraton Award.
That game will take place at Stony Brook on Sunday afternoon. But until then, the Red and Blue can rest knowing that, by the slimmest of all possible margins, they just won one for the ages.
“We’re gonna have to rest up, because we don’t have a lot of depth; we gotta take care of ourselves tonight and tomorrow, and give it our best shot,” Corbett said. “It’ll be very tough, and they’re very good, so we know we have to play well, and hopefully we’ll rise to the occasion like we did today.”
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