Morning Jac: Merrimack Turns Toward L.I.
As he sat on the bus speeding away from Le Moyne after stunning the top-ranked Dolphins, 11-10, on a goal with 5.7 seconds left, Mike Morgan was coming to a fork in the road. Literally. While he watched the livestats of the other Northeast-10 semifinal between Adelphi and Bentley on his smartphone, he kept an eye on the highway signage.
When the Warriors' bus hit Albany, they had to make a decision to either stay on Route 90 and head back to North Andover (where they would play Bentley), or turn south to Long Island (where Adelphi waited). With one minute left in the contest, Merrimack's direction became clear.
"It's starting to look like we're heading to Long Island," Morgan said, just before top-seeded Adelphi wrapped up its 13-8 victory over Bentley.
As nice as it would have been to host the conference championship game, Merrimack needed the Panthers to win. A win over the Falcons would not have provided the necessary criteria cachet for the Warriors to move into the top four teams in the North, and thus earn an NCAA bid. Morgan knows it, and he preemptively talked about his team's plight before even being asked.
"I'm sure it'll lead into one of your next questions, but we just look at it as we hopefully control our own destiny in terms of getting into the tournament if we go down there and get a win," he said. "We don't want to leave it up to chance. If we go down there and lose, I think we're certainly still in the picture, but we've got a good chance if we go down and beat Adelphi. Our guys know that. We've basically told the guys we're giving them the bus ride down to Adelphi or back to play Bentley to savor this win, but then once you get off the bus, it's just a memory."
Le Moyne thumped Merrimack during the regular season, 16-9, but the contest against Adelphi was much closer. The Panthers took the 12-10 victory in North Andover in mid-April, but it was a one-goal game for much of the fourth quarter. That game coincided with the return of several key Merrimack players from injuries that had sidelined them for a big chunk of the season.
"We certainly know we can play with them," Morgan said of facing Adelphi. "We are certainly better than we were the first time we met them, but it's tough to face a team like Le Moyne and then Adelphi. In terms of the pieces of the puzzle, we are playing well on both sides of the ball and really starting to support each other. We know what we're capable of. If we played like we did [on Friday], we'll certainly have a good chance on Sunday."
If the Warriors do win on Sunday, it could very well come on the backs of a pair of freshman. Tucker Schwarz, who grew up in Connecticut but played his prep ball in Florida, scored the game-winning goal against Le Moyne and is the team's leading scorer (24g, 14a). He was so highly thought of that he was award No. 14 when arrived, a number that has been worn by two of the greatest players in program history – Corey Lunney and Greg Rogowski. "We started that tradition and he's really started to become that guy," Morgan said.
The other rookie is goalie Dom Madonna. The netminder grew up just down the road from Le Moyne in Liverpool, N.Y., and returned to make 14 saves, including several clutch stops. He also kept his composure when two tipped shots snuck past him, as well as a back-pass from a teammate that found its way for an own-goal. "He's been great the last couple of weeks and he was great today against a really good shooting team," added Morgan.
Morgan is comfortable heading to Long Island for an extended stay. Part of it is because he likes his team's chances to win its first NE-10 title since 2010. The other is he grew up in Oyster Bay – about 20 minutes from Adelphi's campus.
"Anytime we get back down there in front of family and friends, it is nice," Morgan said. "We have a lot of alums down there, too. We have a couple of Long Island guys and a couple of Long Island recruits. The environment down there is certainly going to be crazy, and the energy will be through the roof from the field to the stands. It's going to be wild."
And with that, the bus started to slowly veer southward.