SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - The Wittenberg Tigers staved off a furious Denison rally to secure at least a share of the program's first-ever North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) championship with a 15-14 home victory over the Big Red.
Wittenberg has won 21 straight NCAC regular season games and has finished the last two seasons undefeated in league play. However, 2014 is the first year in which the NCAC will award a league championship trophy to the winner of the regular season title chase.
The Tigers now stand 11-2 overall and 7-0 in the NCAC with one game remaining at Oberlin on April 23. Allegheny is second with a 4-1 record, while Denison is now 4-2. Both the Gators and Big Red have lost to Wittenberg, meaning that the Tigers can do no worse than a tie for first place in the final standings.
Wittenberg is also assured of the No. 1 seed in the NCAC Tournament for a third straight year. The Tigers will play at home as long as they are alive in the league tourney.
Wittenberg jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game, but Denison answered with goals on its first two shots. By halftime, the two teams had battled to a 7-7 draw.
The Big Red led just once in the entire game, taking a 9-8 advantage with 28:41 left in the second half on a goal by Claire Ludlow. Wittenberg responded with goals by junior Logan Warye (Maineville, Ohio/Kings) and sophomore Olivia Lash (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Cleveland Heights) to jumped back in front, and after Denison tied the game, the Tigers seemingly took control with three unanswered tallies.
The Big Red rallied again, however, outscoring Wittenberg 4-1 over a six-minute stretch to knot things at 14-14 with 9:14 remaining. That set the stage for a tense stretch run, highlighted by the game-winning goal by junior Megan Loofbourrow (Prospect, Ky./Ballard) off an assist from freshman Becca Joseph (Toledo, Ohio/St. Ursula).
The Tigers held a 42-29 advantage in shots in the game. Individually, senior Alie Marousek (Ballston Lake, NY/Portsmouth (NH)), Lash and Warye led Wittenberg with three goals apiece, while sophomore Carrie Kubasta (Medina, Ohio/Medina) added two goals and two assists and Joseph chipped in with a pair of tallies and one assist.
Other stats of note included five ground balls, four draw controls and three caused turnovers for Kubasta, 10 draw controls from senior Francine Murzynski (Mentor, Ohio/Lake Catholic), which brought her season total to 80 to tie her own school record, six ground balls by Marousek, four caused turnovers by sophomore Mary Ann White (Indianapolis, Ind./Cathedral) and 11 saves from sophomore goalkeeper Katie Reuter (Cleveland, Ohio/Hathaway Brown).