Castleton, Vt. – Though the game lasted the full 60-minute regulation, the North Atlantic Conference Championship was decided in 9.1 seconds.
In less than 10 seconds the Spartans connected three passes, moving the ball the length of the field and eventually to freshman Grace Johnson who flipped the ball into the net as time expired to give the Spartans the 10-9 victory over Thomas College on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.
Before Saturday evening, Castleton had never lost to a North Atlantic Conference opponent in three years of competition. The streak is still alive, but barely. Thomas played the Spartans to the closest conference game in the Castleton's three-year NAC affiliation.
Grace Johnson netted the game-winner, but Brandi Whittemore and Kate Auer carried the offensive load for the Spartans, each with three points. Whittemore netted three goals while Auer scored twice and dished off an assist. Maddy DaCosta scored twice as well as the squad escaped with their third straight NAC Championship.
Jennifer Day led the Thomas scoring finishing with five goals, while Brittany Premo scored three. Miranda Tinsman notched a goal and an assist in the loss.
The Spartans jumped on the visiting Terriers in the first half, opening the game on a 5-1 run. It took Castleton 9:54 to score, but when they finally cracked the seal of the goal it jumpstarted the offense. Maddy DaCosta put the home team on the board, followed by a Brandi Whittemore goal 1:06 later to give the squad a 2-0 lead. Sarah Clark added a free position goal with 16:56 left to make it 3-0.
Brittany Premo made an impressive play to put the Terriers on the board. The midfielder scooped up a groundball in the defensive end, sprinted full field and buried a shot into the corner of the net to cut into the Castleton lead with 11:06 left in the first.
After Premo's score, the Spartans tallied two straight to extend their lead to 5-1. Auer scored her first goal of the day on a free position shot and then found Whittemore to put the squad ahead by four.
Over the next 6:30, Thomas went on a 3-1 run, cutting the Castleton lead to just two goals. Erin Nelligan found Jennifer Day in front for a goal. After a Castleton goal by Whittemore, Day and Miranda Tinsman rattled off a pair of goal to make the score 6-4.
With time winding down and the Terriers gaining momentum, Blake Wardwell stepped up, burying a goal with 22 seconds left to give the Spartans a three-goal advantage and momentum heading into the halftime break.
In the second half, the first 13 minutes went scoreless, but Premo cashed in on a free position shot with 16:56 left to make it 7-5. Jennifer Day followed just under three minutes later to cut the Castleton lead to one goal.
Castleton responded with a pair of goals, rebuilding their lead to three goals. Maddy DaCosta scored her second goal of the evening, followed by Auer's second of the night to give the Spartans a 9-6 lead with 9:57 remaining in the game.
In the next 9:30, Thomas went on a 3-0 run to tie the game. Premo and Day each scored to make it 9-8 with 6:44 left. With time winding down, Thomas needed a score and turned to the hot hand to get the job down. In the final minute of play the Terriers gave the ball to Jennifer Day and let her work. The junior beat a Castleton defender and scored to tie the game with 30 seconds left.
The Terriers earned possession on the next draw control, but turned the ball over in the Castleton defensive zone with 9.1 seconds left. That is when the magic began for the Spartans.
Tiffany Danyow connected a pass to Maddy DaCosta at midfield who worked the ball forward to a wide-open Kim Gosselin. The Castleton assists leader looked forward and found Grace Johnson in space near the crease, sailed the ball to her, and Johnson quick-sticked the ball past the Thomas goalie for the game-winner as time expired.
Crystal Leavitt played a fantastic defensive game for the Terriers, earning six caused turnovers and four ground balls. Erin Nelligan finished with a team-high five ground balls for Thomas. Allie McCarthy took the loss in net for the visitors despite making 16 saves.
Emilee Maher finished with a game-high seven caused turnovers and Danyow scooped a team-best six ground balls in the Spartan defensive effort. Danyow and Wardwell each finished with three caused turnovers for the Spartans as well. Rachel Bombardier made seven saves in the win as Castleton earned their third straight conference crown.
The Spartans improve to 9-6 on the season and will head to their third straight NCAA Tournament, representing the NAC after earning the conference's automatic qualifying bid.
Sara Berry - Colby-Sawyer
Carly Stevens - Colby-Sawyer
Alissa Fallon – Husson
Hayley Thibeau – Husson
Brittany Premo – Thomas
Jillian Lambert – Thomas
Allie McCarthy – Thomas
Rachel Bombardier – Castleton
Grace Johnson – Castleton
Blake Wardwell – Castleton
(MVP) Kate Auer – Castleton