Throughout the duration of the game, Florida never trailed once.
The Gators lacrosse team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, defeating the Mercer Bears (14-5, 8-1) 19-12, Friday behind a scoring outburst in the second quarter.
The No. 7-seed Gators (16-4, 7-0) entered NCAA competition receiving hosting rights for the first two rounds at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. Led by sophomore midfielder Ashley Gonzalez, the orange and blue managed to send the Bears packing as they await the winner of Jacksonville and Stanford.
Gonzalez, a Dix Hills, New York, native, had a career showing as she led Florida's scoring attack with five goals and an assist.
The Bears came into the Diz’ looking to avenge their last-season defeat against the Gators in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In that matchup, Florida blew away the opposition on the scoreboard, 23-5.
However, led by head coach Samantha Eustace, Mercer tested UF this time around.
“I mean, I credit Mercer,” said Florida head coach Amanda O’Leary. “They came ready to play. Got us on our heels early.”
Especially early, Mercer, the Big South Conference Champions, kept the game fairly close. Off the bench, redshirt junior Paisley Eagan made her presence known by opening the scoring for the UF.
The midfielder got her 23rd goal of the season and second score in the opening quarter to give Florida a 4-1 advantage with 3:25 left. The Wilton, Connecticut, native finished the day with three assists to add.
Despite the early production, the Bears fought back. Mercer managed to tie the ball game with a 3-0 spurt. Senior attacker Hailey Rhatigan fired one between the pipes to knot the game at four with over a minute left in the first quarter.
However, the Gators made most of their last possession before the clock hit zero. Off of an Emma LoPinto assist, sophomore attacker Danielle Pavinelli launched the yellow ball at the back of the net with four seconds left before the second frame.
Pavinelli continued her exceptional regular and postseason play as she tallied four goals to go along with four assists.
From there, the orange and blue offense continued to shine. Junior midfielder Emily Heller controlled the second quarter draw to get the ball rolling for UF.
Highlighted by another impressive dish from LoPinto, Gonzalez completed the hat trick, as the reigning AAC Champions went on a 5-1 run.
“I like to contribute in any way I can, whether that's scoring or assisting,” Gonzalez said. “My free positions have been a work in progress this year for sure. I’ve been working hard on them and I think that really showed today.”
Mercer capitalized before the midway point of the game, bringing their goal score to six. But with a nip and tuck battle to start, the Bears headed into the locker room at the half looking to regroup down 10-6.
In the second half, Florida managed to play keep away, refusing to let up the attack on offense. The Gatorsoutscored the Bears 9-6 including a Gozalez score to bring her career day to close.
“…I think our team responded too well, came in, did what they needed to do to kind of pull away at the end,” O’Leary said. “Credit Mercer’s coaching staff, credit their team, they came out ready to play. Just glad we were able to respond.”
The orange and blue finished with nine players scoring at least one goal, registering 30 shots on goal as a team.
Although Bears goalkeeper Isabella Cryne relinquished 19 goals in the matchup, the graduate still recorded 11 saves as UF outshot Mercer 36-23.
The seven-seeded Gators improved to a 14-game winning streak and will be back in action on Sunday at 4 p.m. for the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Curtis Michaud is a fourth-year student at the University of Florida within the College of Journalism and Communications. He specializes in sports and media and would like to continue to provide authentic, thorough, and engaging sport content for all readers. He is an enterprise reporter and lacrosse and track and field writer for The Alligator.