No. 7 Florida lacrosse advances to NCAA second round with 19-12 win over Mercer

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Florida’s 14th consecutive victory ensured the Gators would live to play another day.

The No. 7-ranked UF lacrosse team advanced out of the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday with a 19-12 victory over Mercer University at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville.

Florida jumped out to a 2-0 lead only for Mercer to tie the score at four goals apiece with 1:05 left in the first quarter. Before the conclusion of the opening period, UF broke the deadlock with just 3.5 seconds remaining when Danielle Pavinelli scored her second of four goals on the afternoon. 

"Anytime we can get kind of one of those goals, I think they're momentum changers," UF coach Amanda O'Leary said of Pavinelli's second goal. "We had some great looks. Their goalie played great."

Florida took a 10-6 lead into halftime after holding the Bears to a pair of goals in the second 15-minute quarter. Mercer (14-5, 8-1 Big South) answered back as the second half opened when Chloe Schaeffer scored from a free-position shot, only for the Gators to once again rattle off four unanswered goals to take a 14-7 advantage with 6:36 to go until the fourth quarter. 

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Gators lacrosse players celebrate Friday during their match against Mercer in Gainesville. Florida took a 10-6 lead into halftime after holding the Bears to a pair of goals in the second 15-minute quarter.

"I credit Mercer. They came out ready to play, got us on our heels. It was a one-goal game that entire first quarter," O'Leary said. "But I think our team responded pretty well." 

The Gators (16-4, 5-0 AAC) will face Jacksonville University on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the second round.

"A win is a win, and we'll readjust some of this stuff and go back to the drawing board," O'Leary said, "and be ready to go on Sunday."

Here are takeaways from Friday’s contest. 

Gators bring on Paisley Eagan, success follows

Paisley Eagan was substituted in during the first five minutes of the contest, and the redshirt junior midfielder made an instant impact for the Gators. 

Eagan scored the opening goal just 4:21 into the contest to put Florida in front and assisted on UF’s second goal just 39 seconds later to push the lead to 2-0. 

She added a second goal with 3:25 remaining in the period, and a third with 12:18 left in the second quarter. 

Eagan concluded her day with two goals and a game-high-tying three assists, five points that played a significant factor in UF having a sizable advantage for much of the contest.

"I think that when you're playing in the NCAA Tournament, it's kind of nerve-wracking to be the first to put it in," Eagan said, " and I think just having that in the back of the net just kind of gave everybody this green light. I'm glad I could be the person to do it."

Danielle Pavinelli increases lead in goals

Danielle Pavinelli’s sensational sophomore season with the Gators continued against Mercer. The Northport, New York, native provided four goals on eight shots against the Bears, increasing her season total to 67 goals. 

Pavinelli’s goal with 3.5 seconds remaining in the first quarter broke an early deadlock and simultaneously gave the Gators the momentum heading into the second quarter. The Gators capitalized on the situation and soon the UF lead was 10-6 with 2:30 left in the opening half of play. Her final goal of the afternoon again came in the waning seconds of a quarter as Pavinelli’s free position shot with seven seconds left before the fourth quarter extended Florida’s lead to 16-9. 

Ashley Gonzalez has career-best performance

Florida sophomore attacker Ashley Gonzalez made the most of her eighth start of the season Friday. Gonzalez had a game-high five goals and an assist, giving her a career-high six points against the Bears. 

"She just is big in the clutch," O'Leary said of Gonzalez. "It was great to see."

Considering their underclassmen status, Gonzalez or Pavinelli could very well have been taken aback by the gravity of the moment, and the pair wouldn't have been the first to falter when NCAA Tournament time arrived. 

"I had no reservation that they wouldn't step up in this game as well. They're big-time players for a reason, and they stepped up in big-time situations," O'Leary said. 

Gators and Dolphins set for a rematch

The NCAA second-round matchup between the Gators and the Jacksonville Dolphins (14-4, 5-0 ASUN) will mark the second meeting in just over two weeks at Donald R. Dizney Stadium between the two teams. UF secured a 12-6 victory over JU on April 27 after taking a 3-0 leading within the opening five minutes.

In that contest, which marked the regular-season finale for Jacksonville, Dolphins goalkeeper Paige Pagano recorded 17 saves, just one shy of the program record for saves in a game.