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2nd-half surge powers ASU past GCU Women’s Lacrosse in home finale

Women's Lacrosse team in huddle
April 6, 2019

Lopes manage single 2nd-half goal in 11-5 loss

By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director

Helping others ‘find their center’ isn’t always a benefit. 

After putting on a defensive clinic in the first 30 minutes of their home finale Friday night at GCU Stadium, the Grand Canyon University Women’s Lacrosse team struggled to stop the Arizona State University offense after halftime in an 11-5 loss.  The loss severely hampers the Lopes’ playoff hopes, and puts them in a ‘must-win’ situation for their regular season finale tomorrow (Sunday) night against the University of Arizona in Tucson.  

It was certainly the tale of two different halves, since in the first 30 minutes, the Lopes could find few parts of the first half where they didn’t look like the better of the two teams. 

“We had one of the best first halves in the history of this program,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Tracy Gallihugh.  “Everyone fought for everything.  We had the adrenaline, heads were high, and we had a ton of energy going into halftime because of what we did.”

The Sun Devils – who spent last weekend scoring a total of 27 goals in two wins over Western Women’s Lacrosse League (WWLL) foes University of Arizona and the University of San Diego – struggled to find genuine scoring opportunities before the halftime break. Megan Wijesinghe and Paige Adams gave ASU a 2-1 lead with hard-fought goals in the first 16 minutes, but then the sagging Lopes’ defense frustrated the Devils, and began to create transition opportunities for GCU.  Lexi Ortt – playing in her final home game for the Lopes – used her breakaway ability to set up a pair of free shot goals for her that tied the game at 2-2.  Ortt’s second goal started a three-goal barrage in the final 6 minutes of the half to give the Lopes a 4-2 edge –thanks to Emily Blankenburg’s spinning shot past ASU goalie Olivia Pinkowski, and Taylor Lipinski’s wrist shot on an Ortt assist less than a minute later.

The Lopes’ defense hiccupped momentarily in the first 30 seconds of the 2nd half as ASU’s offense won the opening face-off, and Wijesinghe caught a pass from Emily Silagy to score, cutting the Lopes’ lead to one.  GCU’s defense then stiffened again for the next 10 minutes, allowing Blankenburg to extend the Lopes’ lead back to two with an unassisted goal 7 minutes into the period.

That’s when ASU (5-4 overall, 3-1 WWLL) found a seam in the Lopes’ defense that GCU spent the rest of the night unsuccessfully trying to close.

“We started losing our defensive angles, and got one step behind with all of their cutters,” said Gallihugh.  “We just started losing steam, and losing focus, which slowed us down with our footwork.”

With 20 minutes left in the game, ASU’s Paige Adams found Lea Vandemerwe cutting through the middle of the crease, hit her with a pinpoint pass, and Vandermerwe converted to cut the GCU lead to 5-4.  The Sun Devils tried the same play again twice in the next 72 seconds with the same result to take the lead.  Gallihugh called a timeout to slow ASU’s momentum and adjust a few things, which worked until the 10-minute mark, when the Sun Devils scored five goals (three with the same ‘find-the-cutter’ formula) within a four-minute stretch to emphatically put the game out of reach.

The frustration when the defense began to struggle bled over into the GCU offense, since the opportunities that the Lopes’ attackers found in the first half completely dried up after halftime, resulting in the second straight game that the Lopes (3-8 overall, 1-3 WWLL) managed just a single goal over the final 30 minutes of play.

“Our defensive end has been the anchor of our team the entire year, so when we see them struggling, it gets to us physically and mentally on the other side of the field,” said Gallihugh.  “Everything on our team is just an entire ‘ripple effect’.” 

Playoff bids will go out late Sunday night, which means GCU must beat U of A –who knocked off the Lopes, 22-11, at GCU Stadium a week ago – then hope for the best in the quest to earn their first-ever playoff berth in Division I play.  Game time Sunday, April 8 is scheduled for 6 pm in Tucson.