May 14, 2014

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Top-Ranked RIT Stymies Union to Advance to Semifinals

by Will Cleveland | LaxMagazine.com

Top-ranked RIT is a perfect 20-0 after beating Union 11-6 on Wednesday. Union finished the season 15-4 with three losses to RIT.

© Greg Wall

 

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Jake Coon won a national championship as a freshman goaltender at Nazareth in 1997. He was a four-time All-American and two-time Division III goalie of the year.  Now as coach at the neighboring Rochester Institute of Technology, he has the ability to share his knowledge with his goalies.

“He prepped me really well for this team with preps, scouts, and I felt really good going into today,” said junior goalie Pat Johnston, who stopped a career-high 24 shots, including nine in the fourth quarter, to lead the top-ranked Tigers to an 11-6 win over No. 9 Union in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III men’s lacrosse tournament on Wednesday at soggy RIT Stadium. “I felt really confident. I saw the ball really well. It helps to make a few saves at the beginning, just to build some confidence, and from there, you can just build off that. Our defense did a really good job of just forcing them to take outside shots. They made my life a little bit easier.”

Johnston saw the ball well in the game as his defense really forced the Dutchmen into odd-angle or outside shots.

“Patty’s a pretty emotional guy. He’s a great athlete. If he’s hot, we’ve got a good chance to win,” Coon said. “There’s nothing really secret to the scout. Basically I tell him not to look at the scout. Just go out and play and focus on the ball. You’re job is to save the ball. He did a good job of that today.”

Johnston recorded five saves in the first quarter as the Tigers jumped out to a 4-0 lead. It was 7-0 RIT midway through the second quarter as seven different players scored. Union was held scoreless for the first 21 minutes, 11 seconds of the game.

RIT outshot the Dutchmen 26-16 in the first half and held a 27-13 edge in ground balls.

“I think the weather threw us a little bit. But you are playing a superior team that moves the ball exceptionally well and has great speed,” said Union coach Paul Wehrum. “They had a couple of those behind-the-back passes. We didn’t take great shots at first. We were trying to stress to the kids that we’ve got to keep possession and I don’t think we got the ball around once. They were pressuring us all over the field, and that’s why they’re the No. 1 team in the country.”

Kyle Aquin finished with two goals and one assist, and long-stick midfielder Matt Hossack had one goal, one assist, six ground balls, and three caused turnovers for the Tigers (20-0).

The Tigers, who fell 16-14 in last season’s national title game to Stevenson, advance to the national semifinals for the third time in four years. RIT will host Tufts in the semifinals on Sunday. The Tigers and Jumbos have played four straight years in the postseason.

“I thought we played a steady game throughout,” Coon said. “Union really picked up their game in the second half. Our guys handled. We had to play a bunch of man-down in the second half, but overall, I think we played confident throughout the day, whether it was because of Pat or not, I think we played at a high level.”

Like in the first two matchups, the Dutchmen were hindered RIT’s ability to score quickly and in bunches.

“We struggled to put four (quarters) together against them,” Union senior midfielder Jon Andrews said. “You can prepare all you want, but when it comes to game day, if you don’t show up in all four, it’s not gonna happen. First one (matchup) , it was in the second, second was in the third, and this one it was in the first. You can’t look back on it now.”

Peter Richardson finished with one goal and one assist, Richard Gregory added two assists, and Stefan Basile stopped 14 shots for the Dutchmen.

Union finished 15-4 this season. Three of those losses, including in the Liberty League championship game, came to the Tigers. The other came against Cortland. This Union senior class won 49 games and advanced to three NCAA Tournaments, making it the most successful senior class in the 90-plus years of the program.

“It’s frustrating. It’s just unfortunate that we played our worst game against them when it mattered most,” Santangelo said. “I think that if we played like any other day, we could’ve stuck in there till the end and we would’ve had a shot. It’s really frustrating.”

“It’s (our success) probably the only keeping me from breaking down right now,” Andrews added. “I’m looking back on my four years here, and it’s been the best four years ever. I have the best friends and the best memories. Three NCAA appearances, no (Union) team can say that. I’m proud of it.”

Union appeared to get to within 11-7 with 8:17 left in the fourth quarter, but senior Rob Santangelo’s goal was disallowed after the referees conferred. The head of Santangelo’s stick fell off. The Dutchmen never got any closer.

“It’s part of the rules,” Santangelo said. “You’ve just got to play within the rules. There’s always calls like that every game, all year long, so you’ve got to expect that. You’ve just got to fight back and not let it affect you.”

Now a semifinal matchup with Tufts awaits the Tigers, but Wehrum doesn’t envision RIT losing. He won eight NJCAA national titles as the coach at Herkimer County Community College, so he recognizes a championship-level team.

“The facing off is critical. That kid (senior Tyler Brooks-Lambert) is a legitimate All-American. He controls the tempo. Tufts is going to have to win some face-offs,” Wehrum said. “I still don’t think it’s going to be a match. I think that RIT is the No. 1 team in the country, and I think they’re going to keep it rolling. If we’re 15-4 and three of them (losses) are to the No. 1, I’ll take it for a small liberal arts school in Schenectady.”


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