Lehigh, Bucknell Advance to Patriot League Final
|Dante Fantoni chipped in two
goals as Lehigh improved to 7-0 against Patriot League foes this
year to advance to Sunday's league championship game against
© Kevin P. Tucker
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Last year, Lehigh won its first Patriot League men’s lacrosse championship. This season, the Mountain Hawks have completely dominated their league competition with one huge hurdle remaining to clear.
No. 1 seed Lehigh reached Sunday’s final with a convincing 15-7 victory Friday night over No. 4 Colgate in a semifinal witnessed by 1,552 fans at Lehigh University’s Ulrich Sports Complex. Second-seeded Bucknell prevailed in the opener against Army, 12-9, to reach its second final in three years.
The championship showdown is set for 3 p.m. Sunday in Bethlehem. The league champion receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Division I championships.
Lehigh, ranked No. 16 in the nation, went a disappointing 4-4 against non-league competition. But it improved to 7-0 against league opponents Friday and has outscored those rivals by a combined 75-47.
“It stinks that we lost those games early in the season,” said sophomore reserve Kurtis Kaunas. “But we learned from our mistakes and we got better. Now we’re playing our best when it counts most.”
The first 15 minutes of the second semifinal were played on almost even terms. The next 30 were not.
Lehigh drilled Colgate 10-3 during the second and third periods. The Mountain Hawks scored eight consecutive goals at one point, with seven players accounting for those tallies. In total, nine Lehigh players finished with at least one goal.
Senior David DiMaria, who is tops on the team with 63 points, totaled three goals and three assists. Brian Hess, Patrick Corbett, Dante Fantoni and Alex Drake all scored twice for the Mountain Hawks.
“I told the guys at halftime I thought it was one of our worst halves we’d played in a while,” Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese said. “The third quarter was much more representative of what we’re all about. I thought we relied too much on individual play in the first half. We were much more unselfish in the second half.
“When we’re playing our best, we spread the wealth. And that’s what we did.”
While DiMaria earned first-team Patriot League honors and sophomore Matt Poillon was named goalie of the year, Lehigh has another up-and-comer in Kaunas. The 5-foot-8 attackman/midfielder scored a first-half goal and has seen increased playing time this season.
He’s another weapon for the Mountain Hawks.
“Kurtis is a special talent,” Cassese said. “He has incredible speed and quickness. He’s playing a bunch as a sophomore after playing some as a freshman. His role will continue to become more significant. I think he has a chance to be one of the all-time greats to play here.”
“I’m just trying to contribute in any way I can,” Kaunas said.
Bucknell Downs Army in First Semifinal
Friday’s first semifinal was wild early on and a mismatch later.
Bucknell scored three times in the first five minutes, then Army responded with four consecutive goals to take a 4-3 advantage into the second period. At that point, the Bison put a stranglehold on the Black Knights — specifically defensive aces Jackson Place and Mike Huffner on offensive stars John Glesener and Garrett Thul.
Army scored just one goal in a 29-minute span as coach Frank Fedorjaka’s Bison turned a one-goal deficit in a comfortable 11-5 lead.
“Other than a five-minute stretch in the first quarter and the five-minute stretch to end the game, we played exceptionally well,” Fedorjaka said. “We did what we wanted in every facet of the game, with the exception of faceoffs.
“Jackson Place was on Glesener and Mike Huffner was on Garrett Thul. They did great jobs individually, but our team defense was very strong. Both of those guys pushed the offensive player in the direction they needed to in order to get proper help. Excellent effort.”
Glesener and Thul both managed just one goal in the opening 55 minutes. They each finished with two. Will Mazzone led Army with three tallies.
Offensively, senior Chase Bailey and sophomore David Dickson provided the scoring punch.
Bailey scored four goals and assisted on another. Dickson found the cage one time and assisted on five goals. Dickson upped his season assist total to 47, a Bucknell record. He entered play third nationally in assists.
Todd Heritage also contributed three goals and an assist for the Bison, who are ranked 13th nationally.
“When it comes down to these games, it’s always a possibility it could be your last game,” said Bailey, who scored three of his goals in the second quarter. “I definitely wanted to leave it all out on the field.”
Fedorjaka complimented all three of his seniors who started against Army: Bailey, Huffner and goalie Kyle Feeney, who stopped 11 shots.
“I felt like some of our guys got caught up in the moment when we fell behind there in the first quarter. But, I thought our seniors really held us together and made a lot of plays,” the coach said.
Up next is Sunday’s championship game.
Lehigh, en route to its perfect league record, knocked off Bucknell 11-7 on April 12 in Lewisburg. The Bison were ranked No. 9 nationally at that point of the season.
“We’ll be prepared,” Bailey said of the championship game. “We lost to Lehigh already but I’m pretty confident we can run with them.”
“I expect an absolute battle,” Cassese said. “We’re two very similar teams [scheme-wise] who had similar seasons. I think it’ll come down to the fourth quarter and be a one-goal kind of game.”
BUCKNELL 12, ARMY 9
Army 4 1 0 4 – 9
Bucknell 3 3 3 3 – 12
ARMY: Goals – Will Mazzone 3, John Glesener 2, Garrett Thul 2, Alex Van Krevel, Alex Newsome. Assists – Andrew Boyd 2, Glesener 2, Pat Brennan, Alex Carros, Mazzone. Saves – Sam Somers 12.
BUCKNELL: Goals – Chase Bailey 4, Todd Heritage 3, David Dickson, Brock Ghelfi, Peter Burke, Sean Doyle, Billy Mattimore. Assists – Dickson 5, Tom Black 2, Ghelfi, Heritage. Saves – Kyle Feeney 11.
Shots: Army 42; Bucknell 41.
Turnovers: Army 20; Bucknell 12.
LEHIGH 15, COLGATE 7
Colgate 1 0 3 3 – 7
Lehigh 2 4 6 3 – 15
COLGATE: Goals – Brendon McCann 3, Ryan Walsh 2, Matt Clarkson, Michael Thomas. Assists – Peter Baum 2, Eric Foot, Robert Grabher, McCann, Clarkson. Saves – Conor Murphy 7, Jake Danehy 2.
LEHIGH: Goals – David DiMaria 3, Brian Hess 2, Patrick Corbett 2, Dante Fantoni 2, Alex Drake 2, Kurtis Kaunas, Klay Heston, Matt Smith, Kyle Stiefel. Assists – DiMaria 3, Hess 2, Corbett, Alan Henderson, Ryan Buttenbaum. Saves – Matt Poillon 8, Griffin Farha 3.
Shots: Colgate 40; Lehigh 35.
Turnovers: Colgate 12; Lehigh 14.