By Nelson Coffin
Mercy’s Emily Crusse said that she knew the top-seeded Magic needed a goal before halftime in a 1-1 tie in order for her team to gain some momentum against second-seeded Notre Dame Prep on Saturday afternoon in the A Conference championship game at Clarence “Du” Burns Arena in Canton.
And when sophomore midfielder Adrianna Gunther’s pass from the red line found Crusse on the right wing, the senior midfielder turned slightly and fired a rocket inside the near post for a 2-1 lead with just 25 seconds remaining before halftime.
It was her team-best 27th goal of the season.
The Magic (12-1, 11-1 conference) would add goals by senior forwards Alexis Kasco and Sierra Kurek in the second half to complete a 4-1 victory and earn the program’s first-ever indoor soccer crown.
“We lost in the finals last year (to John Carroll), so this was our redemption,” Said Crusse, who is headed to Salisbury University in the fall.
NDP jumped on top in the seventh minute when senior Mackenzie Christensen had time and room to bury a shot past Mercy sophomore keeper Alivia McDermott (9 saves).
After that, though, despite a couple of near misses or McDermott saves, the Blazers (8-4-1, 8-4 conference) were shut out.
“We knew after that first goal not to get discouraged,” Crusse said. “We were very confident in our ability.”
Meanwhile, Mercy was applying lots of pressure on NDP senior keeper Gabby Christie (14 saves), who was up to the challenge.
First, the McNeese state commit stopped a header by junior midfielder Olivia Warner before deflecting a Crusse blast just wide.
Kasco nearly tied it, although her shot sailed just wide and high.
With 11:05 remaining in the first half, Crusse rifled in the equalizer past Christie on a pass from Warner.
NDP senior defender Marayo Adenegancame close to deadlocking the game for a second time until her long strike on a free kick was grabbed by McDermott.
Moments later, she also turned away junior Camille McGarvey, similar to the way Christie blunted a shot from sophomore midfielder Claire Geier to keep the one-goal deficit intact.
With 8:20 to go, Kasco one-timed a perfect feed from sophomore Palina Jordan that made it 3-1. Five minutes later, Kurek sealed the deal on a shot that clipped Christie and went in the goal. Jordan assisted that goal as well.
“Mercy played really well and took advantage of our breakdowns when we got tired,” NDP coach Favio Ivan Barros. “But the game was more even than the results showed.”
Mercy coach Nick Gill said that three of the Magic goals came on counter plays.
“We try to give the other team as much possession as it wants on the defensive end,” he said. “And then when they (move forward), we try to win the ball and counter.”
Gill, whose wife, Joie, guided St. Paul’s School for Girls to its second consecutive B Conference banner in the opener of the doubleheader, said he is most proud of his defense for only allowing 14 goals all season in 13 matches.
“I love the way we defend together,” he said, noting that defenders Gunther, Kaitlyn Kozlowski and Riley Rumbley were rock solid in front of McDermott this winter.