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Six minutes away from possibly the biggest win in Harvard field hockey history, the clock struck midnight on the Crimson's Cinderella season as Harvard dropped a devastating 3-2 decision to Princeton on Saturday at Jordan Field.
After Harvard (9-5, 3-2 Ivy) blew a 2-1 lead late in the game, Princeton (7-5, 4-1 Ivy) came roaring into overtime looking for the kill.
Nine minutes into the extra period, the Tigers found what they were looking for on a play that started with a menacing strike from junior forward Kellie Maul on a penalty corner.
Crimson tri-captain Anya Cowan made a spectacular diving stop on Maul's initial attempt, but junior forward Melanie Meerschwam found the rebound sitting in front and fired a bullet past a helpless Cowan.
Meerschwam's bullet all but buried the Crimson's title hopes.
Only one game back of undefeated Ivy leader No. 14 Brown (11-2, 5-0 Ivy) heading into the weekend, the Crimson desperately needed a win to keep its destiny in its own hands heading into the final game of the season at Brown Nov. 6.
With the loss, however, Harvard drops into a third-place tie with Cornell and Dartmouth, and will need a lot of help if it hopes to capture the Ivy title and the coveted berth in the NCAA tournament.
To transform the Crimson's faint title hopes into reality, Princeton needs to lose one of its last two, and Brown must utterly collapse and drop its final two matches to give Harvard a share of the title.
However, it didn't always appear as though the Crimson would need such a daunting pair of improbabilities to make the post-season.
To the contrary, Harvard seemed to be in control of the match and its own destiny throughout most of the game against Princeton.
Then with time on the clock dwindling and the Crimson leading 2-1, everything seemed to fall apart.
Meerschwam, the soon-to-be overtime hero, made a long run up the right side and drew a penalty corner while trying to cut inside.
On the ensuing corner, freshman back Emily Townsend stepped back and leaned into a rocket that somehow found its way through a mass of Harvard defenders and was pegged for the back of the Crimson goal until Cowan made a lunging save.
However, on a play that would eerily foreshadow the overtime winner, the Harvard defense couldn't clear the rebound and freshman midfielder Ilvy Friebe found the back of net to tie the game 2-2 and send it to overtime.
The Harvard defense simply collapsed after Princeton called a timeout with eight minutes remaining in regulation, and the Crimson could never again regain the momentum they possessed early in the match.
In stark contrast to Harvard's slow starts recently, the Crimson came out of the gate fired up and looking to score early.
Just over a minute into the first half, the Crimson drew first blood on a speedy offensive rush.
Breaking down the field, freshmen midfielder Kalen Ingram gained a step on the last defender, and junior forward Kate Nagle loosed a quick pass in stride to Ingram who fired it under the outstretched Princeton goalkeeper, freshmen Kelly Baril.
"We've been getting off to pretty slow starts recently," Ingram said. "And we just wanted to come out strong early in the game."
Princeton senior forward Kate Carroll tied the game up midway through the first with a shot that bounced high into the Crimson net after Cowan only got a piece of it.
Nevertheless, the Crimson, like a team of destiny, came charging back with the combination of Ingram and Nagle once again.
Just four minutes after the Tiger's strike, Ingram once again took a feed from Nagle and took the lead 2-1 on an improbable shot.
"Nagle was coming in on the goal-line one-on-one," Ingram said. "And she didn't have anywhere to go, so she dumped the ball to me. All I was trying to do was center the ball, but somehow it found its way into the net."
After Princeton tied the game 2-2, Harvard almost stole the game in the final two minutes of regulation on an apparently harmless shot from junior back Liz Sarles.
The Princeton goalkeeper entirely ignored a long-range drive from Sarles, presuming that it would go wide, only to have the shot hit the post.
Unfortunately, Sarles' shot, like Harvard's season, was just off the mark and the drive deflected off the post wide.
Harvard tries to salvage what's left of a suddenly shipwrecked season this Wednesday when it hosts Providence.
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