With 2:46 on the clock in the second period, junior midfielder Paisley Eagan found freshman attacker Emma LoPinto in the crease. The Manhasset, New York, product dunked home the finish through heavy contact.
Goals like that were hard to come by all night, but the physicality that came with it was abundant.
The No. 9 Florida Gators outlasted the No. 22 Jacksonville Dolphins 12-6 in a defensive battle. It was the Gators’ 10th-straight victory and 11th win in 12 tries against the rival Dolphins, the only other Division 1 program in the state.
The energy for this matchup was palpable from before the opening whistle. Jacksonville’s players were bouncing with energy in opening warmups and brought that energy to the field. Florida matched that intensity and made the game an exciting experience.
“I think we knew going into the game that they were going to be a physical team,” senior goalie Sarah Reznick said. “It's a state battle. So it's our rivalry. So I think both teams are always very aggressive.”
Florida got out to an early lead with three goals in the first five minutes, including a pair from standout sophomore Danielle Pavinelli. Despite going down, Jacksonville continued to battle in all facets of the game. The Dolphins scored a pair of goals midway through the quarter, but Florida answered back with a pair of its own to close the period.
The Gators continued to score in the first half, adding four more goals in the second quarter, but despite the lopsided 9-3 scoreline at halftime, the game felt close.
Jacksonville created plenty of scoring opportunities, but Reznick swallowed nearly every shot on target. The Long Beach, New York, native made nine saves in the first half alone, maintaining Florida’s lead and giving the Gators the momentum heading into the break.
“[The Dolphins are] a team that will shoot out of their dodge at any point in time,” head coach Amanda O’Leary said. “We worked on it at practice with her… and I thought [Reznick] did a great job of anticipating that she saw the ball all the way in.”
Reznick’s stellar play continued in the second half, with two more saves in the third quarter. She finished the game with 11 and an impressive 64% save rate.
“I knew that they were going to come out here and take a lot of shots and I think my defense saw that too,” Reznick said. “It made it a little easier on me to make those saves but I think we did a really great job defensively.”
The second half was a masterclass of defensive lacrosse from both teams.
Jacksonville continued to press aggressively against Florida’s attackers and made life difficult. Not to be outdone by her opposing counterpart, JU goalie Paige Pagano stood on her head, finishing with a monstrous 17 saves at 58%. Her night included several ridiculous saves exploding from pipe to pipe.
Despite a valiant performance from Pagano and endless effort from Jacksonville, the early deficit and Florida’s fantastic defensive showing were too much to overcome.
It was a team effort for the Gators on the scoreboard, with seven different players finishing with at least one point. The team’s leading scorers, Pavinelli and LoPinto, were held in check for a large part of the game.
Pavinelli scored her two early goals, but was held pointless the rest of the night. LoPinto tallied two goals and an assist, but struggled to beat her defenders in isolation, scoring on just two of her nine shots.
Junior midfielder Paisley Eagan led the way for Florida with two goals and two assists. Her impact extended all over the field, taking additional defensive shifts and bringing in three ground balls.
The Gators will travel to Greenville, North Carolina, Saturday to face the East Carolina Pirates in their final regular season game before the American Athletic Conference tournament.
Contact Topher Adams at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.
Topher Adams is a third-year journalism major and the football beat reporter for The Alligator. He also covered Florida lacrosse for the paper and loves watching college football and MLS soccer.