Fitzgerald Moves Up, Sparks Tommies
Swapping Joe Costello and Mike Fitzgerald at attack and midfield, respectively, proved instrumental in getting St. Thomas untracked Friday in a 12-11 MCLA Division II semifinal victory over Dayton.
© Marc Piscotty
DENVER -- With Dayton's long pole Matt Dowd giving stud attackman Joe Costello trouble and St. Thomas trailing 8-6 late in the third quarter, Tommies head coach Pete Moosbrugger had to make a switch. It meant moving Costello back to midfield and junior Mike Fitzgerald up to attack.
A quarter later, St. Thomas had a 12-11 victory and its third consecutive trip to the MCLA national championship game. It will defend its MCLA Division II title at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., on Saturday evening.
Costello scored two of his five goals in the fourth quarter and Fitzgerald added three of his four markers in the final stanza, and Dayton couldn't convert several solid chances in the final minute, giving UST a shot at its third straight crown.
"Fitzgerald is a hard-working kid, and he's not as flashy as our other attackman," Moosbrugger said. "Their long poles did a good job on Joey C., so we had to move him to midfield. Fitzgerald is a middie, so we just flipped them. He has been an attackman the last two years, so we weren't nervous about it."
Said Fitzgerald: "I've played attack for most of my life, and Joey is a natural midfielder. He's a great player, so we want him clicking if possible. It is exactly like riding a bike. Where I had to learn midfield, I don't feel like I have to learn the attack position."
Fitzgerald scored his first goal of the game with 1:37 left in the third quarter, cutting the Dayton lead to 8-7. Costello opened the fourth quarter with a pair of goals two minutes apart to give the Tommies their first lead of the game, 9-8. After Davenport regained the lead on goals by Connor Carrol and Sean Hartnett, Fitzgerald went to work.
In the span of 1:29, Fitzgerald netted three consecutive goals to give St. Thomas a 12-10 lead that would stand up. All three of the goals were scored in transition when the Dayton defense broke down.
"They did a nice job of switching off Joe Costello with [Fitzgerald]. They were trying to get Costello away from Dowd, who had a great game against Costello," said Dayton head coach Charlie Mark. "He had a great day, but he didn't do it against Dowd. Costello got caught on a couple of my middies, and you know what, there's a reason he's a candidate for MCLA player of the year. He demonstrated it today."
The game started with the Dayton defense causing all sorts of problems for the champs. The Tommies were also having issues with a hard Flyers ride.
"We have to get better at our attack showing for long poles and our middies getting open in the middle," Moosbrugger said.
Dayton held a narrow, 5-4 lead at the half thanks to a goal by UST's David Chlipala from 15 yards out off a feed from Cooper Mazon, but the Flyers had threatened to pull away earlier. After a slow start by both teams, Will McCormick put Dayton on the board first, followed by a Christian Furbay crease dunk from John Morrow.
Joe Costello slipped one past John Young low to trim the lead to one, but McCormick rolled back and forth up top before unleashing a shot that beat Thomas Thone low to the stick side with 50.2 seconds left in the first for a 3-1 lead.
The Tommies rallied, getting back within one with a beautiful passing display down the field that culminated in a David Burke put-away on the crease from Costello with 11:45 left. Just over two minutes later, it was Burke again to tie it on a fake pass followed by a crease roll.
The Flyers managed to rebuild their two-goal lead, but Chlipala scored with 6.1 seconds left in the half to cut the lead to one. The third quarter started and finished with St. Thomas goals, sandwiched around two Dayton goals by Gerry Jehling, who finished with three goals and an assist.
Thone was unofficially credited with 14 saves, including an impressive second-half performance.
"If that goalie doesn't make a bunch of saves, we win by five goals," Mark said of Thone's performance. "I thought we had a great game, and if that goalie isn't in there, we win. I'm a little frustrated right now, because he had our chances."
Despite the narrow victory, Moosbrugger was relatively calm on the sidelines as he watched his team earn a chance to defend the championship tomorrow against the winner of the Grand Valley State-Davenport game at 3 p.m. MDT.
"A couple of years ago, I would have freaked out," Moosbrugger said. "But I don't get nervous anymore. It seems like every game we have been down in this year, and we've found a way to eke out a win. Until the last whistle blows, this team has shown they are going to fight and fight."