Before breaking into postgame stretching Tuesday afternoon, Winthrop women’s lacrosse players put their hands in and chanted on the count of three, “all the way!”
That’s the theme for the Eagles (15-3 overall, 9-1 at home), who buried Presbyterian 21-5 in the first round of the Big South Conference lacrosse tournament. The tournament champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and the Eagles, in the program’s third year of existence, want to dance.
Winthrop has had the best season in the young program’s history, producing separate winning streaks of six and seven games, ranking fourth in the country in goals per game and winning the league’s regular season title for the first time. Given that success, it’d be understandable for the Eagles to feel the pressure this week as they try and cap off the season with an NCAA tourney spot.
“It’s all about the process,” said Winthrop coach John Sung. “If we can control our attitude and our effort, then things will happen for us. A big thing for us is when you get into the tournament, you can’t play tight.”
Sung’s team was loose Tuesday, using a quick burst of goals before the half to stiff-arm the Blue Hose. The second half was largely a formality as the free-scoring Eagles put up nine more in the second. They’re a third of the distance to “all the way.”
Presbyterian cut Winthrop’s lead to 7-4 on Ashley Wren’s goal with 5 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first half. Senior midfielder Shannon Gallagher said there was no need to have a heart-to-heart of anything like that.
“We know what our game is, we’re a scoring team. So we just had to kind of calm down, know we can do it, drive and get those open girls freed up,” said Gallagher. “We didn’t have to bring it in or talk about it. It just naturally came.”
The Eagles scored the last five goals of the first half - with three coming from Gallagher’s stick - and then scored the first nine in the second 30 minutes to blow the game open.
Sung said it was crucial for Winthrop to remain patient on offense. The tendency against a less-talented opponent like Presbyterian is to force the issue and try and take the game to them. The Eagles were very patient on Tuesday afternoon, and Sung was especially pleased with 21-of-41 shooting.
Gallagher’s eight goals set a Big South tournament record for most in a game. She was very efficient, bulging the net on 8-of-10 shots, and she also played well defensively, using her length to disrupt Presbyterian’s passing. The Big South’s attacker of the year, Winthrop’s Jenna Kasmarik, scored four times to take her season total to 71 in just 17 games, tops in the country. And Sung gave the team’s player of the game award to Allie Yeager after she scored four goals and added a pair of assists.
“We really wanted to work on high percentage shooting,” said Sung. “I think once you get to the tournament you really want to make sure you get that extra step to bury that shot, so we waited, we were patient and I was very happy with them.”
Winthrop advances to the Big South Conference tournament semifinals and will host the winner of High Point-Longwood Friday at 4 p.m., at Eagle Field in Rock Hill. Sung’s team has home field advantage throughout the tournament should it advance to Sunday’s final.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T