Pitt lacrosse starts inaugural season with overtime thriller, takes down Duquesne 9-8


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt freshman attacker Sydney Naylor is chased by Duquesne lacrosse players during the first Pitt women’s lacrosse game in program history.

By Richie Smiechowski, Senior Staff Writer

Across the Monongahela River from Downtown, the Pitt women’s lacrosse team celebrated. 

Pitt fans of all ages made sure to come out and show support for the program’s first game, which was an event two and a half years in the making. The ride side of the bleachers were scattered with blue and gold, with each fan repping a towel sporting the team’s inaugural season crest.

Head coach Emily Boissonneault has built the women’s lacrosse team from the ground up for the past two and a half years. On the other side of the field, away from the players and fans, she took a moment to reflect. 

“I sat across the field reading my pregame speech and just making sure that I was ready,” Boissonneault said. “I think that’s when it really hit me what was happening… I cried about every other sentence every other time I read it.”

For junior attacker Carlie Leach and the rest of her teammates — this was more than just a typical opening day.

“This is my third season opener that I’ve played in and this one felt like it had a little more pressure,” Leach said. “It felt like it had more behind it and a lot more meaning.”

Despite the magnitude and spectacle surrounding the team’s first contest, the Panthers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) managed to knock off their Pittsburgh foe, the Duquesne Dukes (0-1, 0-0 Atlantic Ten) in a thrilling 9-8 overtime battle.

Boissonneault expressed her gratitude for the crowd turnout, saying that the cheers directly behind their sideline shows the potential for lacrosse in Pittsburgh. 

“Just to have the fans behind us to hear them be a part of our sideline I think is incredible,” Boissonneault said. “I couldn’t be more excited for the future of the sport.”

Pitt junior attacker Carlie Leach (7) passes a Duquesne player during the first Pitt women’s lacrosse game in program history. (Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer)

The contest started off in favor of the visiting Dukes, who took the opening draw and kicked off the first possession of the game. After two shots, a save from graduate student goalie Paulina DiFatta gave the Panthers their first possession, but a turnover from Chloe Jones quickly ended the Pitt attack.

Duquesne took advantage of an extra-player opportunity and struck first on a goal from senior attacker Tina St. Clair , giving life to the strong visiting contingency.

The two teams traded opportunities on goal for the next 10 minutes before senior attacker Kierin Ratliff-Kailbourne finally gave the Panthers their first goal in program history.On an acrobatic diving attempt at net, Ratliff-Kailbourne found the back of the net. Duquesne, determined to ruin its opposition’s homecoming, scored just 24 seconds later, giving them a 2-1 advantage late in the first period.

Ratliff-Kailbourne’s journey to becoming a starter at Pitt has been years in the making. She started as one of the program’s original players, playing for the club team prior to joining Boisseneault’s team. She said that scoring the first goal in program history was “unreal” and she was happy it came at an opportune time.

“I know how long I’ve been working for this,” Ratliff-Kailbourne said. “I just know that I really wanted to be the one to score that and for the team we had to get up… it’s a great feeling.”

Duquesne had the statistical advantage throughout the first period, outshooting Pitt and showing their experience early. The Dukes managed to control the pace and constantly kept the Panthers on their heels, winning all four draws.

Once again, the Dukes started the second period with their fifth draw control in a row, but couldn’t capitalize on the early possession. Pitt came within inches of leveling the game at two, but graduate student attacker Paige Petty’s equalizer attempt rang loudly off the crossbar.

Duquesne extended their advantage on St. Clair’s second goal of the game less than two minutes later, bringing the score to 3-1. Ratliff-Kailbourne made sure that Pitt would stay close going into the half, as she netted her second goal to bring the Panthers back within one with 5:48 left in the second period.

Pitt played a much better second period, appearing to find their rhythm down the stretch. They managed to take control in both shots and draw controls, while minimizing turnovers and fouls.

Pitt lacrosse player Kierin Ratliff-Kailbourne scores the first goal in Pitt women’s lacrosse program history against Duquesne Friday evening. (Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer)

Coming out of the locker room, Duquesne managed to capitalize with a goal off a Pitt turnover with just less than four minutes into the period, once again extending its lead to two goals.

The Panthers shortly thereafter finally managed to string multiple goals together, with Leach scoring a man-up goal. The score was followed up with a second goal from sophomore attacker Kate Elam five minutes later, drawing the game level at four.

The two teams traded goals before going into the third period — the second one completing Ratliff-Kailbourne’s hattrick with the clock at three seconds.

After dropping the first five draws of the game, Pitt managed to flip the script in the fourth, winning the battle in the midfield 4-1. The two teams were level on the scorecard with seven shots apiece.

Ratliff-Kailbourne and Boisseneault both gave high praise to graduate student attacker Karina Latsko for her performance on the draw in the second half. Ratliff-Kailbourne said her performance was crucial to their victory. 

“Karina seriously stepped up in the second half,” Ratliff-Kailbourne said. “The win definitely wouldn’t have been possible without her, and I think knowing that she was going to keep winning the draws, we had all faith in her to get the ball settled down on offense.”

Two goals within the first two minutes of the fourth period got things kicked off in a hurry before a five-minute scoreless stretch ensued. The Panthers managed to grasp their first lead of the contest, going up 7-6 on Ratliff-Kaibourne’s game-leading fourth goal with 8:57 remaining in the final frame.

With the home crowd at their loudest, Duquesne quickly scored two goals in the span of less than two minutes to silence their cross-town rival, and once again take a one goal advantage.

In the final moments of the game and with only 2:07 left on the clock, graduate transfer and Preseason All-American Paige Petty gave the Panthers new life as her shot found the back of the net, tying the contest at eight.

As the clock struck zero, fans and players braced themselves for a decisive three-minute overtime period. As per NCAA rules, the team to score first in OT automatically wins the game.

With the game on the line, Pitt continued its newfound dominance in the draw, immediately winning possession to start the overtime period and marching down the field for an attack.

Leach took hold of the ball behind the net looking to attack about a minute into the period. She ran left and fired a shot past the goalie for her second score of the match, and ultimately, the game winning score.

Her teammates on the field dogpiled on top of her before the rest of the players from the sideline sprinted towards the mass of bodies just a few yards in front of the goal. Players and coaches exchanged exuberant hugs on the sidelines while the home crowd celebrated thunderously on the metal bleachers of Highmark stadium. 

Lasko said she didn’t even see the ball go in and that her teammates were the ones who told her she’d scored the game-winner. 

“I didn’t actually see the goal go in,” Lasko said. “I was asking them and they were telling me through the scenes. It was pretty funny but it was just such an incredible way to finish and I know it’s only up from here. 

Emotionally and physically depleted, the players made their way from the to the bleachers at Highmark Stadium to celebrate with their friends and family members.

Pitt’s next game is on Feb. 18 against Siena at Highmark Stadium. The game starts at 5 p.m.