The University at Albany Great Danes left no doubt who is the best America East women's lacrosse team.
NCAA Division I's lone undefeated team built a 7-2 halftime lead and cruised to an 11-4 victory over Maryland-Baltimore County in Saturday's America East Tournament championship game at John Fallon Field.
The win gave UAlbany (17-0) the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament the first in the program's Division I history. The Great Danes received the No. 7 seed and a first-round game Sunday at Dartmouth.
We're blazing a new trail, and we're the first," said UAlbany senior defender and Guilderland High School graduate Nikki Branchini. "We're really excited."
"I couldn't be happier," said senior attacker Jodi Battaglia, who led UAlbany with five goals and two assists. "We [seniors] have waited for four years to get there."
The game was a rematch of the regular season finale, which UAlbany won 12-11. But unlike that game, the Great Danes never allowed UMBC to get close once they built their five-goal lead. Ball control was the key, as UAlbany possessed the ball for much of the game. The Retrievers went more than 46 minutes between goals at one point.
"I was happy with the pace of play," said UAlbany coach John Battaglino. "We just needed to do a better job of managing the game and picking our spots [to take shots]."
UAlbany goaltender Anna Berman also played a role in shutting down UMBC. The freshman made three point-blank saves in the first half that swung the momentum in the Great Danes' favor.
"I love looking back and seeing the ball in her stick," Branchini said of Berman. "She's a freshman, but she doesn't play like a freshman."
"The girls just picked up the momentum from those saves," said Battaglino.
UMBC's Amanda Pappas scored on a free-position shot with 18:15 left in the first half to tie the game at 2, but UAlbany ripped off five goals in a seven-minute time span after that to establish its 7-2 lead. Battaglia scored two of the five goals in that stretch " receiving assists from Taylor Frink both times.