March 12, 2011

Villanova Nips Penn in Philly Battle

by Justin Feil | | Live Blog Replay

Villanova's Jack Rice scored four goals, including the game-winner in overtime.

© Kevin P. Tucker

PHILADELPHIA -- Another city rival, another narrow win.

Jack Rice’s fourth goal allowed the No. 20 Villanova men’s lacrosse team to survive a late rally from Philadelphia rival No. 9 Penn for a 9-8 overtime win Saturday at Villanova Stadium. Villanova also edged Drexel, 14-13, to start the month.

“I would have preferred the easy one,” said Villanova captain Brian Karalunas, “but fortunately we’ve been in enough one-goal games that we’re confident down the stretch. We don’t lose them too much.”

Last year, though, a couple of narrow losses were all that kept Villanova out of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats lost an overtime game to Lehigh, and they lost, 8-7, when Penn scored the final two goals of last year’s meeting.

“It definitely comes into mind,” Karalunas said. “We knew we couldn’t let down. They proved it last year, and you saw it down the stretch with those last three goals to tie it up today. We knew we were going to be in a fight.

“I wasn’t expecting overtime, but we knew we’d be in a fight the whole time.”

On Saturday, Villanova had an 8-5 lead after a gorgeous end-to-end play that saw Chris Creighton cause a turnover, Karalunas pick up the loose ball and sprint to the other end, flip it to Kevin Cunningham, who fed Rice for the goal. Penn responded with the final three goals of regulation, including the tying goal with 1:19 left.

Penn also got the first possession of the overtime, but Villanova’s Billy Hurley saved John Conneely’s behind-the-back attempt, and Rice converted a feed from Will Casertano at the 1:45 mark to end it.

“Maybe it’s a little of our guys’ maturation to come back from that,” said Villanova head coach Michael Corrado. “Or maybe we just got lucky. You never know. We’ll take it.”

Rice finished with four goals for the Wildcats, who improved to 5-1 with their fourth straight win since losing to Bucknell. Kevin Cunningham, who had a scare with his knee the day before in practice, looked fine with two goals and three assists.

Penn dropped its second straight game, both on the road, both against ranked teams. Both Villanova and Penn play Princeton next, Villanova at Princeton on Tuesday and Penn will host Princeton next Saturday.

“We made some plays down the stretch,” said Penn head coach Mike Murphy after falling to 3-2. “We had the ball in overtime and we had a look inside. We didn’t finish it. They had their look inside and did finish it.”

Penn’s Corey Winkoff had one goal and five assists. Drew Belinsky and Dan Savage had two goals apiece. Villanova helped Penn’s leading goal scorers Al Kohart and John Conneely to just one goal combined.

“At least we made the run and got it to overtime and had our chance,” Murphy said. “We just couldn’t finish it.”

Rice wasn’t a surprise finisher for Villanova. He had 26 goals as a freshman, good for second on the team, and he has 12 already this season, second again on the team.

“To me, Jack Rice is one of the best inside players in the country,” Corrado said. “He got an opportunity and scored his fourth goal of the game.”

The Wildcat junior and sophomore classes account for 97 percent of their total team offense this year.

“I’m definitely happy with how our offense has been playing,” Karalunas said. “It’s a bunch of sophomores and juniors scoring goals, and they’ve matured so much since last year. I’m really happy with the play of those two classes.”

It’s been an encouraging start for the defense as well. Since giving up 13 goals to Drexel, the Villanova defense has allowed just 19 goals in its last three games. They did not allow a goal in the first quarter against Penn.

“We got a little more aggressive on defense,” Corrado said. “We’re sliding more. We’re being more aggressive in our slides. I think Billy has played really well. He played OK early, but he’s played really well, very strong, the last couple weeks, since after the Drexel game. He’s really stepped up.”

When Penn chose to go 1-on-1 in the final ticks of regulation, it was Karalunas who was matched up to make sure there wasn’t even a shot at Hurley. The senior is one of the leaders for the defense.

“I’m playing a lot more off-ball stuff,” said Karalunas, who’s from Dewitt, N.Y. “I just love playing transition between the lines. I’m going to work 110 percent there. My goal is to try and make it so we don’t even have to play 6-on-6, try to cause turnovers.”

The Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season is up to his old tricks. Karalunas leads the country in caused turnovers. He had five more against Penn.

“He allows us to do a lot of things,” Corrado said. “In the ride, he allows us to be aggressive. He allows us to shut off and deny the adjacents and try to speed up the tempo of the game. In transition today, he played great. He had a couple great plays off the ground in transition today. I don’t think there are many players out there as versatile as he is.”

Karalunas knows there are still strides to be taken. The Wildcats weren’t as good as they wanted to be on the man-down. They also had trouble on clears. But in the overtime, they got a stop to give their offense the chance to win it.

Said Karalunas: “I think we have the potential to be very good. We’re going to get better, but pretty much our entire starting D is back from last year so we’ve played together for a while. We’re getting used to each others’ games and hopefully we’ll continue to progress.”

Villanova starts Big East play March 26 vs. Syracuse. With an offense proving it can be score despite its youth, and a veteran defense that is shaping up, Villanova is looking to be a player in the Big East race.

“The Big East is a couple weeks away and we’re playing a tough schedule to try to get ready for the likes of the Georgetowns, Syracuses, Notre Dames and Rutgers that are all in the top 20 right now,” Corrado said. “It’s a great conference. We’re hoping these kind of games help prepare us for the league games.”

Notes: Villanova won the only other overtime meeting with Penn, 10-9, in 2001…The Wildcats are 3-0 at home… Penn is 3-0 at home, but 0-2 on the road… Penn’s Corey Winkoff had six points against Villanova after entering the game with four points all season. He also had three points in last year’s win over Villanova… Princeton will be Villanova’s third ranked opponent this season. They are 2-0 against ranked opponents.


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