NEC CHAMPS! Top-seeded Bulldogs win 2017 NEC Tournament title and NCAA tournament berth with 16-7 win over Wagner

Photo by Gretchen McMahon Photography
Photo by Gretchen McMahon Photography

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Behind 17 saves from junior goalie Samantha Santeramo (Wantagh, N.Y.) and hat tricks from four different players, the Bryant University women's lacrosse team captured its third Northeast Conference Tournament title and trip to the NCAA tournament with a 16-7 victory over third-seeded Wagner Sunday at the Track & Turf Complex.

The Bulldogs (13-4) were perfect through regular-season and tournament play to go 9-0 against Northeast Conference opponents, outscoring league foes by a combined 147-70 since the beginning of April and outscoring opponents in NEC Tournament play, 33-17.

Bryant has now won the NEC Tournament crown in three of the last four seasons and will head to the NCAA tournament for the third time in head coach Jill Batcheller's five-year tenure.

Santeramo made 26 saves in the two-game tournament – including 17 Sunday against the Seahawks – to earn NEC Tournament MVP honors, and the junior was joined on the NEC All-Tournament Team by NEC Offensive Player of the Year Jess DeMeo (Mount Sinai, N.Y.), NEC Defensive Player of the Year Molly Martin (Island Park, N.Y.) and senior midfielder Shannon Sullivan (Farmingdale, N.Y.).

All-NEC First Team rookie Caitlin Breglia (Long Beach, N.Y.) led Sunday scoring with four goals, while DeMeo, junior Catlin Brown (San Diego, Calif.) and senior Emily Columbus (East Northport, N.Y.) all chipped in hat tricks of their own in the NEC Championship victory. Sullivan (1g) and senior Ali Cardinal (Schenectady, N.Y.) (2g) rounded out the Bulldogs' scoring.

Olivia Streilein led the Seahawks (7-12) with three goals of her own, while Anna Belle Reilly added two.

After opening the game on a three-goal run in the first 4:02, Wagner wouldn't put together back-to-back goals for the remainder of the contest.

Trailing, 3-0, DeMeo and Breglia netted two quick free position goals before Sullivan tied the game at 3-3 with 14:20 still to play in the first. Off a pass from Columbus, Brown gave Bryant its first lead of the game two minutes later, 4-3, and Cardinal would need another 36 ticks to put up a two-goal cushion in unassisted fashion.

Reilly would cut that lead back to one at the 10:52 mark, but Bryant would score three of the last four goals of the half to send the top-seeded hosts into the locker room with an 8-5 advantage.

But in the second, the Bulldogs played shutdown defense that sprung the offense for nearly 30 full minutes. Cardinal would make it 9-5 in Bryant's favor less than four minutes in before Columbus netted consecutive goals to up that lead to 11-5.

A Talia Bouzakis score was the only interruption to seven second-half Bulldog tallies and came with 17:03 to play, but Breglia would bookend four-straight scores in response to run the clock down to 7:48 and the score up to 15-6.

After a Streilein goal with 3:08 left in regulation, Brown would complete her hat trick and the game's scoring with 42 seconds remaining for the 16-7 final.

The Bulldogs' free-position shooting propelled the offense to the victory, as the Black and Gold went 7-of-9 from the eight-meter mark. DeMeo went 3-for-4 on free-position shots and recorded the 100th point of her career in the contest, becoming the fastest Bulldog to hit the century mark at the Division I level.

Wagner outshot the Bulldogs, 36-25, despite the loss and each team picked up 15 ground balls. Bryant was led by three ground balls from sophomore Lauren Britton (Monmouth Beach, N.Y.), while senior defender Carly Cronin (Feeding Hills, Mass.) paced the side on the draw with three. The Bulldogs went 19-for-21 on the clear and totaled six caused turnovers.

The Seahawks used two goalies in the title bout, getting five saves from Kelsey Fee. Madeline Courtney and Amanda Rey paced the game with four ground balls apiece, while Courtney added four caused turnovers to lead Wagner to nine on the day.

The Bulldogs will now await their NCAA tournament fate, with the 2017 NCAA Selection Show slated to air Sunday night at 9 p.m. on ncaa.com.