Lacrosse moves past Kean and heads to NJAC Finals

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EWING, N.J. – The No. 7 TCNJ women’s lacrosse team turned the rematch from its tightest NJAC tilt into a runaway from the jump, wrapping up an 8-0 first-quarter lead and scoring the game’s first 13 en route to a 18-3 victory over fourth-seeded Kean in the semifinals of the NJAC Championship Tournament.

Ally Tobler led all scorers with four goals while Anna Devlin, Jennifer Laroccaand Anna Wright three goals apiece for the Lions (14-2), who booked a place in Saturday’s Championship against second seed Rowan, who won 18-9 against third seed Stockton.

LaRocca dished out three assists, giving him 99 for his career, and Devlin had six draw checks to close within two of the single-season record.

The Lions were pushed to the brink in the teams’ regular season meeting at Union, but Wednesday’s rematch was a different matter altogether. After four scoreless minutes to open, TCNJ stepped on the gas and exploded for four unanswered marks in just over three minutes. Devlin started the frenzy with the first of three consecutive free position recoveries, the next two coming from Wright, before forcing a turnover on a clear attempt and feeding a cut Nathalie Berry for a counter-attacking goal that made it 4-0 and forced a timeout from Kean at 7:52 of the opening period.

About two minutes later, Jillian Westerby extended the margin to five with a well-placed free position effort. The Lions added three more in the final 2-plus minutes of the frame, Wright weaving through the defense for a brilliant individual count to make it 6-0. LaRocca landed his first assist of the day on a pass to a cutting Devlin, then went low right on a free position attempt to extend the gap to 8-0 with 20.7 ticks posted.

Despite a relatively slim 11-7 advantage in shots in the first 15 minutes, the Lions put 10 on the frame and scored on eight, including five strikes from the free position.

The attack continued in the second quarter. Tobler scored on a remarkable individual effort, unleashing a shot while falling to the ground and scoring 53 seconds into the frame. The Lions sparked a running clock on Westerby’s weaving goal through Kean’s defense at 9:46.

Tobler continued his personal show minutes later, taking a pass in front and using a series of moves to break free for a perfectly placed shot to make it 11-0. LaRocca did a dozen, spinning around the defense in a circular motion that ended in a low shot into the back of the cage.

Tobler then sent the Lions into the break with a 13-0 advantage, laying down another shot from free position with 11 seconds left on the first-half ticker. The goal came on another clear miss for the Cougars, who were just 2 of 5 in the first half and 7 of 14 for the game.

Kean (8-9) broke the shutout on Katie Pileggi’s goal early in the third, but TCNJ quickly regained momentum. Tobler scored his fourth of the day by stripping a Cougar player on a clear attempt and taking him all the way for a quick goal.

Devlin completed his hat trick with a free position goal, then set up LaRocca’s third of the day in the dying seconds of the third.

Kean scored the first goal of the fourth quarter before Wayden Ay mesh back-to-back scorers to cap Lions production. The Cougars scored the game’s last goal from the free position with 3:15 left.

TCNJ outshot the Cougars, 31-17, and put 25 of those efforts on target. The Lions controlled a 15-8 surplus in the draw circle.

Westerby fired on five draw checks and two caused turnovers on his two goals, while Tobler caused three turnovers on clearance attempts. She also led the Lions with three ground runs.

The Lions were very effective 7-on-11 on free position attempts.

Julie Charest was brilliant in the first quarter, stopping all four shots she faced. These included a pair of attempts from the free position and a shot from close range. She added another close-range save midway through the second, ending the first half with five, and made another incredible save in the second half to end the day with six.

The Lions are aiming for their 11th consecutive NJAC title on Saturday.

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