Gators make quick exit from NCAA lacrosse tourney

The Florida lacrosse team walks off the field following the team's 15-12 loss to USC on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Graham Hall/Correspondent
Published: Sunday, May 14, 2017 at 5:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 14, 2017 at 5:04 p.m.

As the Gators lacrosse team walked off the field Sunday for the final time this season, looks of shock, disappointment and sadness strewn across their faces, Kygo's “Stole the Show” rang out through the stadium and summed up Florida's abrupt exit from the NCAA Tournament.

“We used to have it all,” the song's chorus began, “but now's our curtain call.”

In a physical battle between two programs fighting to keep their seasons alive, the No. 3-seeded Gators went back and forth with Southern California before the Trojans seized momentum late and prevailed 15-12 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“They went aggressively through all aspects of the game, and I think we certainly came out prepared for that. I just don't think we executed all that well on either end of the field,” Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said. “But credit (USC) for coming out with a good game plan.”

With the Trojans seeking revenge following a 15-10 loss to the Gators on Feb. 24, it was Florida that came out firing first.

UF junior midfielder Allie Pavinelli needed fewer than two minutes to put Florida in front as her shot made its way past the nation's second-ranked scoring defense and Trojans goalkeeper Gussie Johns.

But Johns, who would finish the afternoon with 14 saves, wasn't about to let Florida reach the NCAA quarterfinals without putting up a stand, and the USC offense soon appeared more than up to the daunting task of breaking down the Gators' defense.

“She was in perfect position on a lot of those,” O'Leary said of Johns. “There were some great saves she made out there, absolutely she was lights out.”

A goal from Sammi Burgess, UF's leading scorer who would also provide four assists on the afternoon to tie her career-high and the program record, in the final minute before the halftime break would bring the Gators to within a goal of the red-hot Trojans.

However, any momentum gained in the interim wouldn't last throughout the entirety of the second half.

As the final 10 minutes approached with the Gators holding a slim 12-11 lead, the Trojans (18-2) buckled down on defense and came up with four unanswered goals to end Florida's season at home in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in as many seasons.

“It's been a great four years here, but unfortunately we were unable to get it done in those four years,” senior defender Caroline Fitzgerald said. “I hope that people look at this moment and know how badly it hurts to end your four years this way, and I hope it sparks something in one person's mind to work a little harder or not take that play off.”

En route to making their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, Florida (17-3), the Big East champion, outscored opponents 324-164 this season and only suffered setbacks to No. 1-ranked Maryland and No. 2-seed North Carolina.

Following another premature conclusion to the season, the Gators and O'Leary will have nine months to regroup and address the team's recent lack of postseason success, especially at home.

O'Leary wasn't thinking about building for the future, however. It was left dwelling on the lasting impressions left by the seniors whose collegiate careers ended in tears.

“I'd like to thank our group of seniors, they have been a tremendous influence on us this season. I'm so very proud of each and every one of their accomplishments,” O'Leary said. “What they have done for not only our program, but (for) the university. We can't ask for anything more.”

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