SAN ANTONIO — Misericordia's dream season ended Friday in a 3-0 national semifinal loss to Messiah.
Messiah's relentless offensive attack had Misericordia on its heels throughout the Cougars' first-ever trip to the Division III Women's Final Four, outshooting the Cougars 23-2 at Blossom Soccer Stadium.
After a scoreless first half, Messiah broke through with a flurry of goals midway through the second to end the Cougars' dream run.
We kept them in front of us pretty well, Cougars coach Mark Stauffer said. The thing that hurt us is that we didn't keep the ball. All we did was committed to defending, and it really took us out of what we do.
Both teams went scoreless into the break. The Falcons held a 9-2 advantage in first-half shots and 6-0 in corners, but Misericordia (20-3-2) silenced all of Messiah's first-half scoring chances.
We were defending for 30 minutes of the first half, Stauffer said. We put ourselves in the defending third of the first half because we didn't take control of the ball even when we did win it.
That spelled trouble for Misericordia when Messiah (23-1-1) scored in the 53rd minute.
The Falcons advanced the ball into the attacking third, and Alex Brandt fired a shot through a crowd. Misericordia goalkeeper Maureen Ciccosanti stepped out to make the save.
Rachel Scheibeler corralled the deflection and rolled the ball past Ciccosanti to give the Falcons the lead.
Two minutes later, Messiah's Holly Burgard fed Nikki Elsaesser on a run through the middle. From about 10 yards out, Elsaesser booted a shot just out of Ciccosanti's reach and into the net.
Messiah added another for good measure in the 83rd when Elizabeth Phillips curled in from the right flank and connected on a shot to the far post en route to Messiah's sixth-straight trip to the national championship game.
I think it was a little unfortunate on the first goal, Stauffer said. I think she had it covered and it deflected off one of our backs. Same with the third goal. It's a little unfortunate, but when you're under that much pressure, that can happen.
Meanwhile, the Cougars struggled to put together much of an offensive attack. They totaled just two shots — none on goal — and no corner kick attempts. Messiah finished with 23 shots and seven corner kicks.
Even though the season didn't exactly end the way coaches had hoped, Stauffer said he was excited for what the Cougars' run meant. Before this year, the furthest any Misericordia team had gone in the postseason was the round of 32.
We've had this dream forever, but we knew it was going to take years and years of hard work, and everything was going to have to fall into place for it to happen, he said. This group of seniors started to believe it when they were sophomores. It's an awesome experience. You can't build tradition and history until the first group does it, and I don't think we'll be the last group.
Second half: 1. Messiah, Rachel Scheibeler (Alex Brandt), 53:14; 2. Nikki Elsaesser (Holly Burgard), 55:33; 3. Elizabeth Phillips (Mackenzie Clapper), 82:02.
Shots: Messiah 23, Misericordia 2; Saves: Messiah 0 (Audra Larson), Misericordia 9 (Maureen Ciccosanti); Corners: Messiah 7, Misericordia 0.