St. John's Edges Villanova in OT; Keeps Big East Hopes Up
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QUEENS, N.Y. – With the chips down and its back firmly against the wall, the St. John's lacrosse senior Class of 2014 did what it has done over and over again during its four years wearing the Red Storm uniform: overcome adversity and defy the odds.
Senior Kieran McArdle scored the game-winning goal 2:23 into the first overtime period to hand St. John's a crucial 11-10 extra-time victory over Villanova in Saturday's BIG EAST regular-season finale and on Senior Day at DaSilva Memorial Field, sending off the most successful class in the Red Storm lacrosse era in thrilling fashion. St. John's snaps a three-game skid and improves to 7-6 overall and 3-3 in conference play in the process, keeping its BIG EAST Tournament hopes alive pending results from around the league next weekend. Villanova moves to 5-7 overall and 3-2 in the BIG EAST.
The Red Storm honored its 13 seniors – McArdle, Ryan Fitzgerald, Joe Addona, Donal Flaherty, Andrew Boyer,Drew Viscusi, Keith Switzer, Colin Keegan, Connor Mullen, John Bello, Kevin Cernuto, Joseph Della Fera andLarry McLaughlin – in a ceremony prior to Saturday's contest. St. John's Class of 2014 has led the Red Storm to unprecedented success in the last four years, posting the most wins since lacrosse returned to Queens in 2005 thanks to a 9-4 record last season and advancing to the program's first-ever BIG EAST Championship in 2012. Seven of St. John's seniors have appeared in 45-or-more games during their Red Storm careers, with Fitzgerald, McArdle and Addona making the most appearances of the group with 55.
On Saturday, all 11 of St. John's goals were scored by seniors. McArdle and Cernuto – the top two goal scorers in University history – each finished with a hat trick, while Keegan and Fitzgerald added two goals apiece and Mullen chipped in with one score. The Red Storm outshot the Wildcats, 45-28, and won the groundball battle, 38-31, behind six groundballs by Addona and three apiece from Viscusi, Fitzgerald, Keegan and Cernuto.
"Coming into this game with a 6-6 record and staring Villanova in the face was a tall order, but like they have for four years they found a way to will it to happen," said St. John's head coach Jason Miller of his senior class. "I really think at the end of the day that is what their legacy will be. They've never shied away from hard; they've never shied away adversity. They've attacked it at every turn and the wins have taken care of themselves. They've set a great example for us on the field and a great example for us off the field. They've accomplished things that this team has never accomplished before. I couldn't ask any more from those guys."
The Red Storm did not trail in Saturday's first half. Keegan opened the scoring exactly two minutes into the contest from a McArdle assist, before the latter and Cernuto each scored unassisted goals late in the first quarter to see St. John's lead 3-1 through 15 minutes played.
Villanova was able to tie the game at 4-all midway through the second quarter before McArdle fed Keegan a second time and junior Stefan Diachenko assisted on a long-ranged Fitzgerald effort to send the Red Storm to the locker room leading 6-4. Diachenko, who finished with a career-high three assists, then assisted on the first two goals of the second half – the first to Mullen, the second to complete Cernuto's hat trick – as St. John's sprinted out of halftime to an 8-4 lead with 9:27 remaining in the third quarter.
The Wildcats – who received votes in the latest United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) Coaches Poll and who are already guaranteed a spot in the BIG EAST Championship set to take place May 2-4 at Villanova Stadium – roared back into the game thanks to five unanswered goals in the final 6:42 of the third stanza, the last two on the man-up. The fourth-quarter opened with the visitors leading 9-8, despite St. John's holding a 34-21 edge in shots through 45 minutes played.
The deficit did not deter the Red Storm, however, who twice had to come from behind in the final four minutes of regulation to force overtime. McArdle bullied his way to the net to tie the game a first time at 9-all with 5:11 remaining, before the Wildcats went back in front at 10-9 with 3:31 on the clock. McArdle then turned provider to send the game into extra-time, zipping a pass to Fitzgerald who again scored from distance to tie the score at 10-all with 2:46 remaining.
Both teams had possession and a look at a regulation-time winner in the final minute of the fourth quarter but were unable to capitalize. Villanova won the opening faceoff in overtime and hit Red Storm freshman goalie Joseph Danaher's crossbar shortly thereafter before turning the ball over on an illegal pick with under two minutes to play in the first extra-time stanza.
St. John's did not need a second invitation to win the game, although it did benefit from a fortuitous bounce on the game's decisive play. Cernuto set off the game-winning sequence by backing down his defender and shooting wide, the ball hitting the leg of the back referee rather than going out of bounds. McArdle corralled the groundball and, after weaving his way to the front of the net, ended the game on a deceptive shot that Villanova freshman goalie Dan Willis could only parry into the goal.
"It's just an awesome feeling," said McArdle. "A lot of us in this senior class have been fighting for wins like these since our freshman year, and a lot of us have been starting since then. To leave DaSilva Memorial with an overtime win, it's not only great for me but it's great for the seniors and all of the guys on our team."
Saturday's game-winning goal marked McArdle's 35th of the campaign, one shy of his tally from last season which broke the program's single-season record since 2005. McArdle, who added a game-high four assists to take his school-record career points tally to 258, also scored the overtime winner in the Red Storm's 11-10 home victory over Hofstra on March 18. All three of St. John's overtime games this season have gone to one extra-time period and all have finished with an 11-10 scoreline, with the Red Storm also falling to Marquette back on April 6.
Willis finished with 19 saves for Villanova, while the visitors went 14-of-20 in the clearing game and 3-of-4 in extra-man opportunities.
St. John's closes out the regular season on Friday, April 25, against University of Pennsylvania at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia, Pa.
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