Cal field hockey falls to Liberty in NorPac opener

Derek Remsburg/Senior Staff

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It will be another trip to the NorPac Tournament’s consolation game for coach Shellie Onstead’s squad.

The Cal (6-12, 2-4 NorPac) field hockey team as they fell 3-1 to the Liberty Flames (15-4, 8-0 NorPac) in Lynchburg, Virginia on Thursday. It is the second time in three years that the Bears have failed to advance past the semifinals in the NorPac Tournament.

Almost two months ago, the Liberty Flame fizzled out in a 1-0 loss to Cal on Sept. 8 on Maxwell Family Field. The loss was stunning to a Flame squad that has since engulfed any and all competition in its path, winning the NorPac East convincingly. A big win over the Bears in the tournament would make Liberty’s march to the championship game even sweeter.

Liberty’s offense held the advantage in both shots and penalty corners throughout the match. The Flames put eighteen shots on goal and were awarded twelve penalty corners versus Cal’s four. After being subject to Liberty’s powerhouse offense and staunch defense, the Bears became another victim of the Flames’ current nine game winning streak, in which they have scored a total of forty-five goals and have allowed only eight.

The Flame struck first, with a goal from midfielder Jordan Richardson coming off of the bench. Her shot snuck inside the near post, beating NorPac Defensive Player of the Year Courtney Hendrickson and giving Liberty the early lead over Cal. The Flame offensive pressed the Bears’ defense for much of the first half and fifteen minutes later, Liberty’s Sara Gripe received a pass from forward Bethany Barr and delivered what would be the game winning goal.

The defense recovered enough to hold Liberty scoreless for the remainder of the first and much of the second half. Playing from behind is not a foreign concept to the Bears offense, which has not held a lead in three of their last four games.

It took almost forty minutes for the Bears to respond. In the middle of the second half, forward Jordan O’Reilly knocked in a pass from Shannon Elmitt that crossed right in front of the cage and cut Cal’’s deficit in half. It was the first goal that the Flames’ defense had allowed in four games. Until that point, the Bears offense took only three shots on goal and had significant trouble moving the ball into the attacking third despite the return of offensive juggernaut Andrea Earle. Earle is returning from a string of injuries that confined her to the sidelines for much of the season.

“I was so excited to be back out on the field after missing the last few weeks.” says Earle. “The offense did a great job today at generating chances for goals but couldn’t convert on them in the end.”

In the the seventieth minute of play, the Flames delivered what would be the dagger that would send Cal to yet another consolation game. Defender Bethany Barr drove the ball through the Bears’ defense and into the back of the net, shattering any hopes for a Cal comeback.

After what has been a disappointing and injury riddled season, the Bears will again be playing for third place in the NorPac Tournament on Friday Nov. 8.

“We’re running a new system on offense so I think we’ll be playing some of our best field hockey of the year in our next game.” Earle says.

Christian Legg covers field hockey. Contact him at [email protected].