Florida’s lacrosse team hadn’t lost a regular season conference game since falling to Connecticut 11-10 on April 18, 2015.
For those counting at home, that marks 16 consecutive Big East victories for UF.
However, late in the second half on Sunday against Vanderbilt, that streak appeared to be in jeopardy. The Commodores fought back from an early four-goal deficit to get within one of the No. 6-ranked Gators with 3:53 left in the contest.
With 2:31 remaining, senior attacker Shayna Pirreca fired a shot into the net while close to Commodores goalie Madison Foglio to extend the Gators’ lead to two.
At least, so it appeared.
As it turns out, Pirreca was too close to Foglio, and the officials hastily called off the goal due to a crease violation on Florida.
Vanderbilt took over possession with just over two minutes to play and the opportunity to tie it. However, UF’s defense held strong, and after a turnover from Commodores attacker Gabrielle Fornia, Gators midfielder Caroline Benitez recovered the ground ball. The Gators took over possession with under a minute to go, and they were able to drain the clock, coming away with an 11-10 victory Sunday afternoon at the Vanderbilt Soccer/Lacrosse Complex in Nashville, Tennessee.
"This game was a fight,” Gators coach Amanda O’Leary said in a release. “I give all the credit to Vanderbilt for forcing us into some very uncomfortable situations on the field.”
For Florida (6-2, 1-0 Big East), it was its lowest offensive output this season. However, strong defensive play, especially from junior goalie Haley Hicklen — who totaled 13 saves — led the Gators to victory.
Vanderbilt (5-3, 0-1 Big East) held UF’s scoring attack, which ranks fourth in the nation, largely in check. However, the Commodores couldn’t escape their own offensive deficiencies. Their 10 goals scored on Sunday was tied for their lowest total this season.
UF jumped out to a 5-1 lead early in the first half, but after a Vanderbilt rally, the Gators only led 7-6 at the break.
Florida began the second half well, leading 11-7 with 17:57 to play, but Vanderbilt cut that lead to one before eventually falling to the Gators.
While it wasn’t the best day offensively for Florida, Pirreca shined, scoring four goals in the win. Additionally, Florida saw seven different players score Sunday.
The Gators entered the game shorthanded, missing a pair of stars in junior attacker Lindsey Ronbeck and senior defender Aniya Flanagan due to injury. Flanagan did not play against Navy either, and Ronbeck was injured early in that game.
Because of this, two Gators made their first career starts. Sophomore attacker Madisyn Kittell, who has contributed coming off the bench this season, started in place of Ronbeck. Meanwhile, junior Caroline May, who recently converted to defense, played in favor of Flanagan.
Now, UF will have a brief break from conference action with a matchup against No. 13 Towson at home on Wednesday. It will then resume Big East play on Saturday against Georgetown.
“Our energy level across the board still needs to improve, but I am proud that this team has not given up when faced with adversity,” O’Leary said. “We will need to keep working on the little things and prepare for a talented Towson team on Wednesday."
Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior attacker Shayna Pirreca celebrated senior day with her team and classmates at Dizney Stadium on Saturday. Pirreca scored three goals in Florida's 23-3 victory over Butler.