BOSTON – By all accounts, an extremely young Eastern Connecticut State University women's soccer team made immeasurable strides since losing a 2-0 decision at home to the University of Massachusetts Boston five weeks ago.
Only, the score in Thursday's season-ending loss to the top-seeded Beacons in the semifinals of the Little East Conference playoffs did not reflect those gains as UMass Boston (18-2-1) earned a return engagement with second-seeded and four-time defending champion Western Connecticut State University in Saturday's title game with a 2-0 victory over fourth-seeded Eastern (7-12-0) under rainy and cold conditions at James Cotter Field. It is UMB's second shutout of Eastern in the tournament semifinals in two years.
Coming off Tuesday's 1-0 first-round home win over fifth-seeded Plymouth State University, Eastern was limited to seven shots Thursday for the second time this year by UMass Boston, which again scored both of its goals in a short period of time in the second half. In the regular season, UMass got goals ten minutes apart. Thursday, sophomores Mary Joe Murphy and Grace McGettrick found the back of the net 14 minutes apart to break a scoreless tie as UMB equaled the program record for wins in a season.
Eastern, which absorbed its record ninth shutout of the year, finished under .500 for only the second time under 20th-year head coach Chris D'Ambrosio in what was arguably the team's most difficult schedule ever. A freshman-laden team opened the season with a 7-0 loss to No. 4 nationally-ranked College of New Jersey and later lost to Connecticut College (No. 8 in New England), Brandeis University (No. 9), and Swarthmore College (No. 9 in the Mid-Atlantic).
In addition to losing both of its goalkeepers during the year, Eastern regularly had five freshmen and two sophomores in its 11-person starting lineup.
Facing UMass Boston for the first time, first-year junior keeper Alexis Tyrrell (Torrington) made ten saves – her second-most in her nine appearances this year – and was just off her LEC-leading save percentage of .859. UMass freshman keeper Maria Spylios stopped three shots for the second time this year in posting her second shutout against the Warriors.
Western Connecticut has won 11 titles in the 20-year history of the LEC championship, winning the first three and looking for its fifth straight when it meets UMass Saturday in Boston in the championship match. The Beacons are 1-3 in title games, losing twice to the Colonials but also defeating Western in 2012.