Rollins and Limestone have ended the last two seasons by playing each other. It's been kind of a bowl game. A season-ending showdown by Division II's top two Southern teams, where pride was certainly on the line but the postseason was basically wrapped up.
This year Rollins and Limestone played in February, because of finals. It could give Rollins the boost it needs to reach its first-ever NCAA tournament.
Rollins defeated Limestone 11-10 on Saturday in a crazy, back-and-forth game that provides the first shake up to the South Region's playoff race.
Limestone's Brittany Howard tied the game for the ninth and final time, 10-10, on a free position with 13:33 remaining in the second half. That score held until Cat Kelley took a free position with 1:21 remaining and the ball was flicked into the net on the ensuing scramble to put Rollins ahead 11-10.
Rollins's Kelly Thayer grabbed the ensuing draw and the Tars ticked a minute off the clock, but Limestone's Samantha Cock caused a turnover with 13 seconds left. Limestone whipped a 40-yard pass downfield to Sylvia Queener, who was fouled, setting up a free position with four seconds left. Rollins committed another foul, shifting the final shot to the center hash. Rollins goalie Elyse De Lisle then delivered the biggest save in program history and sealed the victory.
The game featured nine lead changes and only once, when Limestone's Sam McCarrick scored to make it 7-5 with 28 minutes remaining in the second half, did a team lead by more than one goal.
"Just one of those games you love to be a part of," said Rollins coach Dennis Short. "Both teams played fair, but played incredibly hard. It was a 50/50 game. Play that game 10 times it's going to be a question mark outcome every time."
By emerging out of that 50/50 coin flip, behind a flicked goal and an enormous save, Rollins (4-0) has vaulted itself to the top of the South Region playoff discussion. Every win counts in a region where six top 15 teams battle for three postseason spots.
Last season Rollins defeated Limestone, 13-9, in the regular-season finale, but Limestone was undefeated at the time. Rollins had already lost in-region to West Chester and Lock Haven. West Chester, Lock Haven and Limestone went on to the NCAAs and Limestone advanced to the national championship game.
"Winning early doesn't change anything," Short said. "We still have to win every game on the schedule... It's a huge game. A must-win game. It just reinforces the confidence we have in ourselves."
Rollins must now make certain it doesn't stumble against any other South foes. That starts Friday against No. 13 Mercyhurst. Other chances for setbacks loom on March 15 when No. 4 Lock Haven comes to town and April 11 against surprisingly tough first-year program Florida Southern.
But Rollins controls its own destiny and has something more important to fall back on than an early-season marquee win: senior leadership. Rollins is in its fifth year as a program and the current seniors are the result of its first real recruiting class.
"We've lacked that seasoned group of players who know how to win games," Short said. "It's a special group of kids. In my 19 years of coaching, it's one of the most driven."
Kelley, one of those seniors, leads the team with 17 points (10 goals, seven assists). Her classmate Tori Snow has six goals and one assist. Junior Sarah Ann Showell leads the team with 11 goals and her classmate Erica Pagliarulo has nine goals and two assists.
"They've been through every stage of the program," Short said. "Cat Kelley probably played one of her best games ever [against Limestone]. Add a seasoned class of juniors that has played every game of their entire careers... We didn't lose much."
Limestone (3-1) still has a solid chance at making the playoffs as well. The Saints bounced back Sunday with a 20-8 win over St. Leo. Showdowns with Mercyhurst, Lock Haven and No. 12 Gannon now loom as must-wins for Limestone.
They can draw on Saturday's game, a game either team could have won.
"I'll be honest that whole game was just fun," Short said. "I love those games. We'd rather play that game 17 times, win or lose."
Florida Southern Keeps Rolling
Rollins wasn't the only Florida team to pull an upset over a higher-ranked opponent this weekend. Florida Southern, which sits an hour away down I-4, shocked then No. 10 Mercyhurst, 11-6, on Saturday. It was Florida Southern's second-ever game.
Seven different players scored for the Mocs, who never trailed. Mara Mason, who played last season at NJCAA Champion Monroe CC, led the way with two goals and two assists. Goalie Katie Hammerer had eight saves. The Mocs (3-0) followed that up with a 14-2 win over Lees-McRae on Tuesday.
Florida Southern continues its swing through the Carolinas when it takes on Erskine on Thursday.
Le Moyne Wins Big
Preseason No. 1 Le Moyne started its season with a bang, defeating visiting Notre Dame (Ohio) 17-1 on Sunday. Junior attacker Brenna Bauer had a career-best eight points on five goals and three assists.
Le Moyne visits East Stroudsburg on Monday.
Ruane Shepherding Rams to Late Victories
Shepherd is making comebacks a habit in the early season. The Rams (2-0) rallied to defeat Howard in triple overtime, 20-19, in the season-opener on Feb. 19 and came from behind to defeat Shenandoah, 8-7, on Saturday.
Against Howard, junior attack Nicole Ruane had six goals including the game-winner in sudden death, to give coach Meghan Keelan a victory in her debut. Ruane followed that up with another six goals, and another game-winner, on a free-position with 1:34 remaining, to lead the Rams past Shenandoah.
Shepherd heads to Urbana on Friday.