By Ryan Lazo, @RMLazo13
RICHMOND — George Mason University seemed on the verge of tallying a game-winning goal in the latter stages of the quarterfinal match-up against St. Bonaventure. The Patriots gained entry into the final third at well, pelting shots toward net with ruthless frequency.
The goal was forthcoming.
George Mason’s Emily Harvey ran through the Bonnies’ defense, finding her way right outside the box before blasting a right-footed blast toward net. St. Bonaventure goalkeeper Megan Junker quickly dove to her right, nabbing the precision shot, rose quickly to her feet and fired a pass toward the flanks.
Brittany Charles deftly handled the pass, pivoted and sprinted behind the Patriots’ defense seeing nothing but net in front of her. Once inside the box, with a George Mason defender connected to her right shoulder, Charles slid a pass toward the right side of net for an Abby Maiello tap-in, giving the Bonnies a 1-0 lead.
Brittany Charles photo by Ryan Lazo
The 76′ minute strike, the eventual game-winner, sets Bona up to face top-seeded Dayton Friday night. However, the unselfishness Charles showed on her 10th assist of the season, highlights a team which has shown the ability to do anything it takes to win.
“She’s done it all year long,” Bonnies coach Steve Brdarski said after just the second win in program history in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. “She goes from one side to the other side. She allowed other players to get further up the field with her individual effort.”
But it was not just Charles’ effort, but the entire team’s effort.
It’s a mentality this St. Bonaventure squad has developed this season. How else to explain a team starting off the A-10 slate with three consecutive losses before reeling off four consecutive wins to earn the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.
In fact, the 76′ minute blast is not an uncommon occurrence for a team which seems to play its best with their backs against the wall, especially in the second half of games. St. Bonaventure has now tallied 19 of their 29 goals in the final 45 minutes of the game for a total of 61 percent.
“I think it’s one of those things where it’s just a philosophy of going out there aiming to score one more goal than the other team — doesn’t matter how we do it,” Brdarski said.
And it’s a good thing it doesn’t because St. Bonaventure did not play a pretty game.
George Mason had their way with an injury-plagued Bonnies’ defense which has been without its two best defensive players in Jordan Calabria and Courtney Hoenicke all season.
The Patriots totaled five corner kicks in the first half and numerous set-piece attempts as they fired long balls into dangerous areas inside the box. It all added up to George Mason’s dominance in shot attempts, 15-8 on the night.
Yet, while it won’t show on the stat-sheet, Gabriella Balseca cleared numerous balls out of danger with headed efforts out of her own zone.
“People are going to look at that goal and that shutout, but she did the dirty work,” Brdarski said.
Added Charles: “She’s been really strong for us over the last couple of games. In the air, on the ground and its been huge for us.”
But perhaps the most important quality this Bonnies’ team possesses as they head into the semifinals is their mindset. Bona, picked to finish last in the preseason conference polls, wear that anger on their sleeves.
They know they don’t receive the respect they deserve and it can be seen on the pitch with their desire to get to the loose balls and do the little things which add up to victories.
“No one respects us,” Charles said bluntly. “We try to hold them at half and we just say first 45 minutes we don’t let them get ahead. It’s just a level of disrespect that we receive which keeps this team playing together.”
And if Charles continues to find lanes down the flank, Bona will have a chance to upend Dayton en route to the program’s first A-10 title game, riding an us-against-the-world mindset.