Spartans Blank No. 12 Iowa Behind Patton’s First Shutout

After losing four of their last six games, Michigan State field hockey came out strong in their contest against No. 12 Iowa at the Breast Cancer Awareness Game Friday afternoon. Sierra Patton earned her first career shutout as the Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes 2-0 at Ralph Young Field with the annual Izzone Campout taking place just across the street at Munn Field.

The win puts the Spartans at 8-6 and back to .500 in Big Ten play at 3-3. With the way last weekend turned out with losses to both Indiana and Ball State, this game was a big test for the team.

“We cleaned things up,” head coach Helen Knull said. “I think we had a gut check last weekend. I’m proud of how we rebounded today.”

Thanks to a complete commitment to defense and strong goaltending by Patton, Michigan State was able to shut down Iowa’s top two scorers, Natalie Cafone and Stephanie Norlander. The duo has combined for 29 of Iowa’s 45 goals this season.

“Having my defense back there helped out a lot,” Patton said. “Their man-marking was on point today, so I think that contributed a lot because I got to take the straight shot instead of worrying about whether or not they were going to get a deflection in.”

The Spartans got on the board first out of a corner with Kristin Matula’s second goal of the season at 12:58 with an assist from Michelle Graham.

“I was entering the ball in a corner and the corner ended up being broken down,” Matula said. “I was lucky enough that it popped right over an Iowa stick and I got a touch on it.”

It was the first time the Spartans scored the first goal in a game since September 6, a 4-2 win over St. Joseph’s, and only the third time this entire season. Matula’s goal snapped a 10-game streak of giving up the first goal. Michigan State is now 3-0 when scoring first.

“It was great to get the first goal,” Knull said. “It was great for us, and the biggest thing for us is we played 70 minutes of our game today. I told them that’s the first game all season we’ve put together.”

Michigan State took the 1-0 lead into the break with a 6-2 lead in shots, but the tables turned in the final 35 minutes.

“Iowa played a really solid second half,” Knull said. “The fact that we were already up, we weren’t playing so panicked and reactive to them. So we could set the tone a little bit.”

The Hawkeyes did not register a shot on goal in the first half, but they put Patton to the test in the second half. Iowa ended up outshooting Michigan State 16-3 and held a 7-1 advantage in corners in the half. Patton made 10 saves, many at point blank range.

“I think we just got a little bit sloppy,” Knull said. “Footwork started to go towards the end, which has to be the first thing to actually stay instead of go, but we weathered the storm and in previous games we haven’t. So, I’m pleased about that.”

The insurance goal would come at 60:52 on a penalty stroke by Alli Helwig, her fourth goal of the season.

“It’s deceptive for the keepers because I’ll drop my left shoulder and put it to the right corner,” said Helwig, a senior from New Jersey. “It’s seemed to work so far.”

It was a hard fought win for Michigan State after a tough week of practice.

“We really wanted a win after last weekend,” Matula said. “We’ve been working hard in practice, really focusing on the things that we executed great today with intercepting balls and playing the first pass we saw. It’s great momentum going into Sunday.

Sunday, the Spartans welcome No. 9 Northwestern to town. The Wildcats head into the weekend with a 4-0 record in conference play and a 10-4 record overall.

“Going into Sunday’s game against Northwestern, we’ve got to play the same way,” Knull said. “We cannot play reactive we have to play proactive.”

The Cats have a duo of their own that has combined for 18 goals on the campaign in Isabel Flens and Carolin Troncelliti. It will look to be another big game for Patton.

“If we came out the way we came out today in the first half, then all we have to do is focus in on that,” Patton said. “It doesn’t matter who our opponent is, it’s just whether or not we come out and play our 70 minutes of Spartan hockey.”

Brian Bobal is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports

Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports