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Wingate knocks Pioneers out of SAC Championship with 19-15 opening-round win

Wingate knocks Pioneers out of SAC Championship with 19-15 opening-round win

WINGATE, N.C. --- Madison LaBarbara recorded nine points on three goals and six assists, Kendall Wells scored six goals and Nina Cifolilli added five to lead Wingate to a 19-15 win over Tusculum in the opening round of the South Atlantic Conference Women's Lacrosse Championship tournament Tuesday afternoon.

The fourth-seeded Bulldogs (6-12) advance to face top-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne in the semifinals on Friday afternoon. as LaBarbera's big day came after scoring just two goals and 16 assists in 16 regular-season games, with no more than three points in any game. Wells' six goals boosted her season total to a conference-best 70 for the season.

The fifth-seeded Pioneers (6-11) were led by Erin Sims, who scored four goals and added a pair of assists, along with Madison Malone who had three goals and three assists and Juliette Cusano, who scored three times. Tusculum led on five different occasions and there were six ties, but a 6-1 run by the Bulldogs early in the second half gave the hosts the lead for good.

Tusculum jumped to a quick 2-0 lead after three minutes on goals by Cusano and Sims, but Wingate came back to knot the score at 2-2 as Wells and Cifolilli scored 34 seconds apart. The Pioneers regained a 3-2 lead as Rachel Holmes scored with 23:49 left in the half, but the Bulldogs tied the game at 3-3 on the second of the day for Wells just under three minutes later. Tusculum went ahead for a third time at 4-3 on a goal by Emily Gleason with 11:25 left in the half, but Wingate took its first lead of the afternoon as LaBarbera and Cifolilli scored two minutes apart for a 5-4 Bulldogs lead with 8:51 until halftime.

The Pioneers went ahead yet again as Elliott scored the tying goal with 7:29 to play in the half and Sims netted her second on a free-position shot just 38 seconds later for a 6-5 Tusculum lead, but Wingate would score the final three goals of the half to take the lead into halftime. Joanna King tied the game at 6-6 with 3:24 remaining in the half, then Wells and Casey Roux scored in the final three minutes to send the Bulldogs to the locker room with an 8-6 advantage.

In the second half, the Pioneers scored three times in the first five minutes to regain the lead at 9-8. After Cusano brought the Pioneers within a goal at 8-7, Malone netted the equalizer with 25:52 remaining. Sims then put the Pioneers ahead for the fifth time at 9-8 with 25:01 to play. However, Wingate responded with a three-goal surge of its own, as Wells followed up a goal from LaBarbera with two of her own to give Wingate an 11-9 lead with 20:58 remaining. Cusano broke the run with her third goal of the day with 19:14 left, but Wingate scored three more in a row as Cifolilli, King and Emily Ketron combined to extend the Wingate lead to 14-10 with 12:24 on the clock.

The Wingate lead remained at four as goals by Malone and Savannah Elliott were answered by tallies from Roux and LaBarbera, the latter coming with 8:32 left to give the Bulldogs a 16-12 lead. Sims pulled the Pioneers within 16-13 with 8:09 to play. Another goal by Malone brought Tusculum within 16-14 with 7:21 left, but Cifolilli scored her fourth and fifth goals of the day just over a minute apart as the Wingate lead went back to 18-14 with 3:33 left. Wells scored with 56 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs their largest lead at 19-14 before Megann McKinney closed out the scoring for the Pioneers with 45 seconds to go.

Wingate outshot Tusculum by a 39-28 margin in the match, while the Pioneers had a 15-14 edge in ground balls. The Bulldogs finished with a 20-15 advantage in draw controls and recorded 14 clears in 18 attempts. The Pioneers committed 13 turnovers to 12 for Wingate, and had 17 successful clears in 20 tries.

Holmes led the Pioneers with seven draw controls while Cusano added three. Malone had a pair of draw controls and three ground balls to go along with a pair of caused turnovers. For Wingate, Roux and Sierra Street each had eight draw controls, and Ketron had three ground balls to lead all field players.

Kate Pipkin started in goal for Tusculum and made 15 saves, including 10 in the second half, before giving way to senior Brooke Wagner for the final 3:33. Arion Pierre made 10 saves in goal for Wingate and played all 60 minutes.

Malone finishes her Tusculum career as the program's all-time leader in nearly every offensive and defensive category, including points (241), assists (154), ground balls (173), draw controls (222) and caused turnovers (105). Elliott wrapped up her four years as the program's career leader in goals (139) and ranks second to Malone in points with 163. Sims finished with 69 goals (sixth all-time) and 30 assists (tied for third) to rank fifth all-time at Tusculum with 99 points.

On defense, Christen Craig and Shelby Gray each finished in the top 10 in career ground balls with 71 and 63, respectively, with Craig ranking fourth (38) and Gray eighth (26) in caused turnovers. In goal, Wagner set career records for games (62), minutes played (2270), total saves (330) and victories (20) while compiling a 13.06 goals against average and a .400 save percentage.

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