May 9, 2010

Mount Punches Ticket to NCAA Tournament

by Ken McMillan | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – The design for the game's final play was busted. Siena's defense had locked out Mount Saint Mary's leading scorer Cody Lehrer, and now freshman Andrew Scalley was delivered the ball behind the Saints cage with five seconds left.

There was no time to think, only react, Scalley said. He did remember one thing, though – Siena goalie Brent Herbst had been dipping low all game so Scalley knew exactly where he was going to shoot it as he bolted around the circle toward the left goal post.

"I made a hard move and ripped it,'' Scalley said.

The shot sailed into the top of the cage just as the game clock struck zero, and the official's emphatic pointing to the net signaled the goal was good for a 7-6 championship victory before 200 fans at Marist College's Tenney Stadium.

"It was unbelievable,'' Scalley said of his winning goal, his third tally of the match. "I will never forget it.''

The Mount Saint Mary's bench erupted in joy, while stunned Siena players fell to the ground in dismay. The second-seeded Mountaineers celebrated their return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003 with a victory in their final Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Lacrosse League outing – the Mount is joining the Northeast Conference in 2011.

Top-seeded Siena's one-year reign as MAAC champion is over. The Saints had won their last 22 MAAC matches, dating back to an April 2008 overtime loss at Canisius.

The Mountaineers avenged their only regular-season loss and re-wrote the script from two weeks earlier when Siena erased a three-goal lead to win 8-7 in Emmitsburg, the Saints' fifth consecutive victory over the Mount.

On Sunday, Siena erased a 6-4 deficit with under four minutes remaining and had possession for a potential go-ahead goal in the final 30 seconds only to turn the ball over on a holding call.

Mount Saint Mary's coach Tom Gravante called time-out with 14 seconds left. He drew up a play for a down-pick to free up Lehrer, the co-offensive player of the year in the MAAC, but the Saints sniffed that out. Instead, Jake Willertz spotted Scalley behind the cage, and the freshman made the only move he could on Herbst, the MAAC defensive player of the year.

"He popped a good shot on a very good goalie,'' Gravante said. "Not bad for a freshman. I am very proud of that young man. We have to make sure his head does not blow up because he has to play for me for three more years.''

Scalley, voted the tournament's most outstanding player, scored three of his team's final four goals, giving him 29 for the season.

"I've been turnover prone this year,'' Scalley said, "so I try to let the game come to me in the first half and limit my turnovers. I started putting the ball in the back of the goal and got some confidence.''

The final play made a winner of Mount goalie T.C. DiBartolo (12-4), whose masterful work in nets produced 13 saves despite a broken hand.

"It's surreal right now,'' DiBartolo said right afterward. "You work for this all year, and then it takes forever. If you lose you go home – that's a scary thought. Last year we lost (in the semifinals). This year we wanted to get back and win it.''

"T.C. is an amazing goalie and he deserves everything that he has gotten,'' said Mount defender Matt Nealis, a first-team MAAC all-star. "That kid works harder than anyone else on this team. He is the silent leader and he proves it to everyone. Some of the saves he makes, he's not supposed to make them. That shows his character and how hard he works in the offseason and during the season.''

"I have a little 7 year-old (who) really loves him, and is thinking about (playing) the cage,'' Gravante said of DiBartolo. "I am trying to (get my son) away from that. I think T.C. has fallen out of the tree one too many times. but he loves to be in the cage and he loves that position so God bless him.''

DiBartolo probably wasn't feeling so great after Siena tied the score at 6. Jordan Loftus beat him from 5 yards out on the right side with 3:42 to go and John Rogener beat him with a head-high shot with 1:42 to play.

"We had to weather the storm,'' DiBartolo said. "Even if they tied it, we knew we would be all right because we had the offense to come back.''

"As always you get a little nervous,'' said Mount defender Matt Nealis, a first-team MAAC all-star. "I think we all just knew, we were not going to let this happen. We worked too hard this year and the past three years to let it happen like that. I think we were nervous but in our hearts we knew we were going to fight back.''

The Mount won the ensuing faceoff but Justin Schmidt made a bad pass with 1:30 to play. The Mount pressured the clear and the Saints nearly turned it over when Herbst overthrew midfielder Chris Roth past the midfield stripe. Ryan Duggan hustled to keep the ball from crossing the sidelines, but Shaun Dunn lost the ball as he fell approaching the net. In the scramble, Roth gathered in a short pop fly and the Saints called time-out with 53 seconds left.

Roth was out beyond the box with 30 seconds left when he made a darting run, but he lost the ball and the Mount was able to clear the ball before calling time-out for the final play.

"That's a humbling part of athletics,'' said Siena coach Brian Brecht of the lost opportunities in the closing minute. "Nothing is ever scripted, nothing is ever guaranteed. You have to make plays, you have to make decisions. Hopefully if you are smart with your decision making and successful with your play making, (you are successful). It's a team game. It's tough for the guy whose in at the end and can't be able to have success, but it's a 60-minute game, a long game. There are lots of opportunities that you will have at the end of the game. You just have to have more successful plays than not.''

The Mount (12-4) set a program record for most wins, breaking a tie with the 1999 and 2001 teams. Siena concludes its most successful season in program history at 12-5, one season after going 12-6 and bowing to Syracuse in the NCAA opener.

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