HARTSVILLE, S.C. --- Coker's Haley McCusker scored with 3:00 left as the Cobras overcame a Tusculum second-half rally for an 18-17 victory in the South Atlantic Conference Women's Lacrosse Championship quarterfinals Tuesday afternoon.
The third-seeded Cobras (14-4) advance to face second-seeded Wingate in the semifinals on Friday at 6:30 p.m., while the sixth-seeded Pioneers' season ends with a record of 5-12.
Tusculum trailed 7-0 after 11 minutes and 12-6 at halftime, but used a 7-2 run to tie the game on the fourth goal of the afternoon by Madison Malone with 4:44 to play. However, McCusker's sixth goal of the day restored the lead for the Cobras, who forced a turnover in the final minute to eliminate the Pioneers from the conference tournament for the second time in three years.
Malone finished with a career-high 10 points on four goals and six assists for the Pioneers, while Rachel Holmes had five goals and Juliette Cusano added three goals and an assist. Tusculum was outshot 35-27 in the match, but had a 16-13 edge in the second half while finishing the game with an 18-17 advantage in draw controls.
Faith Kent, the SAC Player of the Year, had four goals and four assists for the Cobras while Mackenzie Baker had four goals and Claudia Jenkins added three. Coker held the edge in ground balls by a 14-11 margin and turned the ball over 13 times to 14 by the Pioneers.
Coker raced out to a 7-0 lead after 9 1/2 minutes as McCusker scored the first two goals of the run. Kent, Baker, Karah Huntsinger, Jenkins and McCusker added goals for the Cobras before Malone got the Pioneers on the board with 18:57 left in the opening half.
Baker and Jenkins each added two more goals in the half for the Cobras, while the Pioneers received goals from Emily Gleason, Brittany Lowery, Holmes, Cusano and Malone to go into halftime trailing 12-6.
Kent restored the Cobras' seven-goal lead just 17 seconds into the second half, but the Pioneers surged with four goals in a three-minute span from Cusano, Eliza Ryan, Holmes and Malone to pull within 13-10 with 25:58 left.
Coker regained the lead at 15-10 on goals from McCusker and Baker, but Savannah Elliott and Holmes responded to leave Tusculum trailing 15-12 with 15:27 left. A goal from Kent extended the Cobras' lead to 16-12 with 14:55 to go, but Holmes and Cusano trimmed the margin to 16-14 with 10;18 to play.
Another goal by Kent made it a 17-14 game with 9:05 remaining, but Holmes scored with 8:22 to left to pull the Pioneers back within 17-15. Gleason and Malone then scored 49 seconds apart to tie the game with just under five minutes to go, but the tying goal from Malone would be the final shot of the game for the Pioneers.
Coker won the ensuing draw and worked the ball around for McCusker, who put the Cobras back on top with exactly three minutes to play. The Cobras lost possession on a shot attempt with 2:28 left, but a turnover by the Pioneers with just under a minute left enabled the Cobras to run out the clock.
Malone's 10 points broke her previous career high of nine points set against Converse on Feb. 16, while her four goals were one shy of her season high set against the Cobras on April 8. The five goals from Holmes matched her season high set against Pfeiffer on Feb. 25.
Cusano led the Pioneers with five draw controls and also had a pair of caused turnovers, while Calyn Kelly had a team-high four ground balls. Ryan had three draw controls, with two each from Holmes, Malone, Kelly and Claire Stanton.
Kent led the Cobras with six draw controls while Lindsay Ordemann had four. Marabeth Durden and McCusker each had three ground balls, while Kaitlyn Kimball had six caused turnovers including the decisive one in the final minute.
Brooke Wagner started in goal for the Pioneers and made three saves in nearly 24 minutes of playing time, sharing time with Kaitlin Winnie who had eight saves in just over 36 minutes of action. Cassie Williams made six saves in goal for the Cobras in the victory.
Malone, a first-team All-SAC selection, finished her junior season by breaking her own school single-season records for assists (53) and points (78). She holds the program career record for both assists (127) and points (193) along with draw controls (164) and ground balls (136). Elliott concluded her junior season as the program career leader with 116 goals after reaching the 40-goal mark for the second straight year. Holmes surpassed the 50-goal plateau for her career with her five-goal effort against Coker, leaving her with 52 career goals in two seasons at Tusculum.