RIT Rocks Ithaca, Three-Match with Union Awaits
by Will Cleveland | LaxMagazine.com
In-Game Blog Replay
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – According to Ithaca College men's lacrosse coach Jeff Long, top-ranked RIT has the look of a championship team.
Long and his Bombers experienced this first-hand as the Tigers dominated every facet of the game en route to a 20-8 win in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament on Saturday afternoon at RIT Stadium in suburban Rochester, N.Y.
Led by junior Casey Jackson with four goals and one assist and freshman Ryan Lee with three goals and two assists, 11 different players scored as RIT (19-0), national finalists last year, advances to the quarterfinals where it will host Liberty League rival Union for the third time this season. Union (15-3) advanced with a 17-11 win over Amherst.
"I think there's obviously pressure. The thing going into the game is that we knew everybody had to bring their 'A' game to compete with them, and I don't think we did that," said Long, who led his team to the tournament for the first time since 2008. "I think a lot of that has to do with them as well. You can't make mistakes against RIT, because they're going to burn you with every mistake you make. You saw that in the first quarter. We tried to clear the ball and bang, bang, all of a sudden the ball is at the other end of the field. They are a championship team. I think today we saw that on this field."
The Bombers (15-5) scored the first goal of the game, but the Tigers responded with five straight goals. Ithaca got one back, but the Tigers closed the first quarter with a goal from Kyle Sterzin.
Jake Long and Michael Walker, who finished with a career-high four goals, scored to get the Bombers to within 6-4 with 11:17 left in the first half. RIT answered with five of the next six goals, including a pair of man-up tallies from Lee, the Liberty League rookie of the year.
"I think we had a couple of chances, but I think we had a couple of turnovers and then all of a sudden, it's 7-4, it's 8-4," Long said. "It's so hard to stop the bleeding against these guys."
RIT coach Jake Coon said he liked the way his team answered, saying, "It was nice to see us respond and build our own energy and turn the tides a little bit."
The Tigers led 11-6 at halftime and extended their lead to 14-6 in the third quarter before the Bombers finally scored with 1:57 left in the third. RIT secured 14 of 17 ground balls in the third quarter and also outshot the Bombers, 20-6.
"We talk about ground balls all the time," Coon said. "It's a huge piece of the puzzle. I thought we beared down much better in the second half and came up with a lot more possessions because of the ground balls. I was pleased to see us bear down and really scrap for those."
RIT held a 47-29 edge in ground balls and a 60-27 advantage in shots. The Tigers were especially effective in causing turnovers (22 by Ithaca) and getting out in transition.
Walker scored a team-high four goals and sophomore goalie Scott Sidnam stopped a career-high 18 shots for the Bombers.
Long offered up a simple way to beat the Tigers, but that's difficult to accomplish against a team that features three talented midfield lines and eight players with at least 20 points.
"You can't make mistakes. That's the No. 1 thing," Long said. "You've also got to possess the ball against them. You've got to take away their transition. You've got to try to play them six-on-six. They just push up-tempo. Their ground ball game is unreal. It's probably the best ground ball team that I've seen in the country. If you give them a look at the goal, it's probably going to end up in the back of the net."
RIT will face Union in the quarterfinals. The Tigers and Dutchmen have met three times this season with RIT winning 8-7 in the regular season and 13-11 in the Liberty League championship game.
"Obviously it's going to take a great effort on our part. We're going to have to do a great job executing," Coon said. "We're definitely going to have to finish our shots on a great goaltender in Stefan Basile. I don't think we need to do anything extraordinary. We've just got to do everything well and play as a team again."
"They are definitely a tough team.," senior midfielder Mac Keehfus added. "We'll have to step up our defense and communicate a lot more. As far as offense goes, they've been playing well, so we've just got to keep it going, keep it rolling."
Ithaca graduates nine seniors, but will feature a talented returning core, including Sidnam and attackman James Manilla.
"It's hard to be happy on a day like today, because you want more for these guys," Long said. "I think we're better than what we showed today. That will be taken care of in my mind in the next couple months. I am very proud of this senior class, and I'm very proud of the young kids that stepped up today."
Senior midfielder Ryan Burns echoed those sentiments.
"The most satisfying thing is that there wasn't just one guy to go to. It wasn't just one guy to put it in the back of the net, one guy to put us on his shoulders," Burns said. "Everyone is unique in their style of play. Everyone has a beautiful way that they play lacrosse. I think that's what makes us a very special team. We're our team, but today, RIT was the better squad out here. They capitalized on our mistakes. They definitely deserve to take it all the way, and I think they will."
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