Monday Notebook: NCAA Division II
The first thing Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan noticed when he read the stat sheet from the Warriors' 12-8 victory over No. 5 Adelphi was the shot discrepancy. Morgan's fourth-ranked team had a 50-19 advantage in the category against a pretty capable offensive team, and the coach was more than happy with than number.
He hasn't always been.
"Last year, we were a team that could put up 50 shots every game," said Morgan. "We play up-tempo and we have guys who can hit shots from a lot of different areas, but we wouldn't take the right ones. I don't think there were many bad shots taken [against Adelphi]. Maybe five. The difference is shot selection. Fifty can be awful, and 50 can be great. We'll pepper you."
The Warriors felt they had to be careful considering the acumen of Panthers' netminder Eric Janssen. Merrimack didn't want to take a lot of high shots that Janssen could quickly outlet for transition chances. With a goalie of Janssen's caliber, a lot of coaches might have been jittery giving him a 2-0 lead like the Warriors did. Some probably would have even called a timeout. Not Morgan.
He didn't really feel it was warranted, and he didn't want to give the Panthers the satisfaction.
"I'm not a big fan, and never have been, of calling that timeout," Morgan said. "'Oh, they got two goals! Timeout!' I just feel like it deflates your guys and the other team explodes out onto the field. Unless I see something that I really need to change, our guys are battle tested. They've been through a lot of good games. They made some plays. Adelphi's a good team, we just needed to settle down."
The Warriors did, scoring eight of the next 10, including a dominant 6-1 second period. Among those second quarter goals was a backbreaker. Adelphi cut the lead to deficit to 7-4 with 25 ticks left in the half on a goal by Kieren Riegel, but Paul Jones managed to thread a sublime pass to a cutting Greg Melaugh, who quick-sticked a shot into the goal 15 seconds later to balloon the lead back to four.
In addition to the shooting statistics, another number that stood out was the zero in the goal column next to Adelphi All-American Joe Vitale's name. Vitale is as good as they get in Division II in terms of offensive players, but sophomore Jimmy Holland – who Morgan points out held Le Moyne All-American Jack Harmatuck off the scoresheet in the NE-10 tourney last year in Merrimack's upset win – got the job done.
"Jimmy is a big, strong, athletic, physical kid and if you are going to match-up with Vitale, you need that kind of defender," Morgan said. "Vitale's not big, but he plays big. He's just strong and Jimmy pushed out on the perimeter and it's good to have that luxury. We have three different style poles but I think they are all All-American caliber."
Putting Adelphi in the rearview mirror is a huge obstacle cleared for Merrimack in its pursuit of the North region bid. The next big hurdle? Le Moyne this Saturday in Syracuse. Before that contest, however, the Warriors will have to subdue an extremely talented St. Michael's team that lost by a goal to Le Moyne on Saturday. Last year, the Purple Knights upended Merrimack during the regular season.
"It's good that they did beat us last year because if it was a team we beat by six or seven, and Le Moyne is on the horizon and we're coming off a big win, it's human nature not to take it quite as cut throat," Morgan said. "But we know how good St. Mike's was last year and I know that they are good this year. I don't think there will be any let down. If they win, it'll be because they played a good game and they beat us. It won't be because we weren't focused."
If Merrimack beats both St. Michael's and Le Moyne this week, the most important stat of all will be looking very good for the Warriors.
- This coming Saturday will be an interesting occasion for Limestone. For the first time in a long time, they will be facing a team in their own region that could potentially keep the Saints out of the NCAA tournament. There have been decent South region teams that have squared off with Limestone, but even a loss to those teams probably wouldn't have altered the Saints destiny. The game against Mars Hill will be different.
If the Lions march into Gaffney and leave with a win, they'll have nearly identical records and the head-to-head result. Mars Hill, currently 11-1, could potentially stumble in the Deep South Conference tournament, re-opening the door for Limestone, which will have a stronger strength of schedule, but that may not be likely.
But first things first – Mars Hill must actually win the game, which won't be easy, especially on the road. Limestone will be a heavy favorite, but it's good for the region that someone is able to keep the Saints honest.
- Rough week for Chestnut Hill. The Griffins were sitting at 6-1 with dreams of possibly grabbing the Wild Card with a strong finishing kick. After losing to Saint Rose and No. 6 Seton Hill in the span of four days, they're pretty much out of the mix...St. Anselm had to work to get past Pace, 6-5...ditto NYIT with Wheeling Jesuit by the same score...when the divisions split to North-South next year, you'll be able to pencil in Mercyhurst and Limestone into two of the four slots, but Seton Hill might be a good bet, too...Florida Southern has two more regular season games left, and none after April 7...hard to believe that C.W. Post was two games away from a dynasty less than a year ago.