Just when the Bears seemed to have found some sense of offensive aptitude at the beginning of October, they fell right back to their shoddy ways. In its last home game of the season, Cal managed to attempt two measly shots that resulted in one goal. That’s not going to cut it moving forward.
Still in the mix at the bottom half of the standings, Cal looked to improve its record against formidable opponent James Madison. This 9-6 JMU team proved to be a difficult team to beat, racking up shots and putting Cal’s defense on the chopping block.
On the other side of the field, the Bears failed to put any pressure on James Madison until the fourth period — and their efforts were too little and too late. In the first half of the game, JMU occupied Cal’s side of the field and took seven shots on goalie Cato Knipping without converting any goals.
The Bears did not even attempt a shot during these two periods and even went without any penalty corner shots. Going into the third period, James Madison ramped up the offensive pressure, whacking six shots — three of which were saved by Knipping.
With 40 seconds remaining, the sixth and final shot of the period resulted in the first goal of the game, scored by freshman Skyler Brown. This goal not only put Brown’s team in the lead going into the final 15 minutes, but also gave her the first goal of her collegiate field hockey career.
Penalty corners in the fourth period provided the action for both sides as JMU padded its lead with another goal, scored by Morgan Merritt on the corner pass-in from teammate Eveline Zwager. With 10 minutes left and not a single shot attempted by Cal, the contest looked to be a wrap.
However, the Bears did not wave the white flag yet, putting together a counterattack started by Sydney Decher’s penalty corner pass to freshman forward Olivia Sharratt. The shot on net was blocked by the defense — up to task in its first contested play of the game.
After the failed attempt, the Bears remained in possession of the ball, attempting another penalty corner play. The ball connected with Jane Onners’ stick and put it in the back of the net. This cut the deficit in half, making the score 2-1 in favor of JMU.
With eight minutes left, Cal just needed one goal to tie the game. To their misfortune, the Bears did not even have the opportunity to attempt another shot as James Madison took control back.
Occupying Cal’s side of the field once more, JMU put together a strong finish to the game, tallying three more efforts that were stopped by Knipping once again. Busy putting an end to their opponent’s final offensive attempts, Cal ran out of time to put together one last drive of its own, falling just short in a 2-1 loss.
Even with this loss, if the season ended today, the Bears would occupy the last spot and sixth seed of the America East Conference Championship tournament. With two more games left, these matchups will be crucial to securing a spot since they are both against conference teams.
This will not be easy for Cal, with the remaining competitors consisting of UMass Lowell and Vermont. These two powerhouse teams have already clinched a playoff berth and have significantly better records this season compared to the Bears’.
Of the three teams competing for the final two tournament spots — Cal, Stanford and New Hampshire — the Bears have the toughest schedule by far. Can Cal finish the season strong and earn a playoff berth, or will it come up short in this final stretch of high-stake matchups?