NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – In a battle of one of the nation's top defenses against one of the most prolific offensive units, No. 6 UMass-Lowell's outstanding backline kept the No. 4 Merrimack field hockey team at bay, as the River Hawks made an early first-half goal hold through the entirety of the match en route to claiming the 2012 Northeast-10 Tournament Championship, 1-0, on a rainy and windy Sunday afternoon at Martone-Mejail Field.
Featuring both teams that battled for the tournament crown nearly a year ago to the day, the River Hawks (18-3) took a one-goal lead in the seventh minute of the match and never relinquished it, as the Warriors (16-3) were thwarted for the second time in as many seasons in the title game after being held to just seven shot attempts over the course of the game.
Vanessa Kent took a pass from Jenna Freitas across the goalmouth and buried it into the right side of the cage for the go-ahead goal at 6:05 of the first half, and that would be all the game would see as far as scoring was concerned.
Both opposing goalkeepers went relatively unchallenged, as neither senior Kerri Bergquist (Mashpee, Mass.) and River Hawk netminder Melanie Hopkins recorded a save, while junior Sarah Dunbar (Hubbardston, Mass.) collected a defensive save for the home side to keep the deficit at just a goal.
UMass-Lowell came soaring out of the gates, as the game's first four shots were recorded by the River Hawks while possession remained mostly in the Merrimack defensive end for most of the first half.
The Warriors did manage to fight back in the waning moments of the first half, generating late scoring chances by means of their four penalty corner sin the first frame alone. But Hopkins and the defense in front of her limited Merrimack to only three shot attempts in the first half, while the River Hawks posted four attempts with two on net.
The second half, however, saw the Warriors surely but slowly begin to generate momentum, as play remained in the River Hawk's scoring circle for extended periods of time. Still, the UMass-Lowell defense – led by Tournament Most Valuable Player and NE-10 Defensive Player of the Year Sarah Wilcox – did not break as Merrimack continued to look for the equalizer as the period progressed.
Finally, with less than three minutes to play, senior forward April Daugherty (Wakefield, R.I.) broke through the potent defense and wound and fired a shot through traffic that seemed destined for the cage, but the attempt rolled wide by a number of inches on the left side of the goalmouth to keep the River Hawks ahead.
Merrimack attempted to generate a few last-effort chances with a minute to play, but UMass-Lowell held until the final whistle was blown, as the River Hawks came away with their third consecutive tournament title.
Both teams finished with seven shot attempts apiece and four penalty corners each, while Daugherty and senior Jen Otis (Penacook, N.H.) led Merrimack with two shot attempts.
Freshman Christine Zubkus (Dover, N.H.) and sophomore Katie Bishop (Conway, N.H.) were named to the 2012 NE-10 Field Hockey All-Championship Team, along with UMass-Lowell's Rachel McCarthy, Wilcox, and Kent. Bentley's Julia Powell and Adelphi's Molly Cuevas also earned spots on the all-championship squad.
Next up, the Warriors will learn their NCAA Tournament fate, as the tournament's Selection Show will air live on NCAA.com on 2:00 p.m.