April 16, 2011

Rival Army Stakes Nail in Navy's Coffin

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Garrett Thul, second in Division I in goals, scored a season-high five in No. 17 Army's 14-9 victory Saturday over Navy in Annapolis, Md.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- For the first half of the 90th meeting with its fiercest men's lacrosse rival, 17th-ranked Army looked mysteriously slow and stagnant against unranked Navy. Amidst the swirling winds and drenching rain at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday, the Black Knights routinely were beaten to ground balls, looked flat-footed on defense and could barely get off a shot.

Then, the real Army team showed up, as did the real Midshipmen of 2011. And when it was over, after the Black Knights had fired up their patented transition game and hit Navy full-force with the one-two punch of attackmen Jeremy Boltus and Garrett Thul, Army had left the Mids in its wake with a 14-9 whipping before an announced crowd of 8,059.

The victory was historic on two fronts. Besides guaranteeing Army (8-4, 3-2) a place in the upcoming Patriot League tournament, as either the third or fourth seed, Army knocked Navy (4-8, 2-4) out of the conference tournament for the first time ever and left the Mids with their second consecutive losing season. Navy, which will miss the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year, also has lost three straight times to Army – the first time that has happened since a three-game slide from 1950-52.

And the fall was dramatic this time for the Mids, who controlled Saturday's proceedings early on, while taking a 7-4 halftime lead. Navy created scoring chances off of aggressive rides, attacked the crease, and was a step faster for virtually the entire 30 minutes, while the Black Knights lacked urgency at both ends of the field and between the boxes.

But the better team emerged from its break, and Navy, which managed just one save and saw sophomore goalie R.J. Wickham get pulled after three quarters, was powerless to stop it. With junior long-stick midfielder Tim Henderson igniting Army's fast break, and Boltus and Thul finishing like the dynamic duo they have been for two seasons, the Black Knights simply ran Navy off of its own, soggy turf with a blistering shooting display.

Army out-scored Navy in the second half, 10-2, and produced 11 of the game's final 13 goals. Thul, the sophomore who entered the game ranked second in Division I in goals, scored a season-high five goals and added an assist. Boltus, the senior who leads the nation in assists, finished with four goals and three assists. Henderson (one goal, one assist) hurt Navy badly, while senior goalie Tom Palesky made nine of his 11 saves in the second half to complement a 14-for-21 (67 percent) shooting clinic by Army.

"We got pretty pumped up in the [halftime] locker room. We were pretty disappointed. We didn't think we were playing our kind of ball," Thul said. "We were just ready to go. It started with [Derek Sipperly] winning some faceoffs. We started pushing it a little more in transition, and we were getting what we wanted."

"What happened right out of the gate [in the second half] was not great coaching. That was just great playing," Army coach Joe Alberici said. "Our guys made those things happen."

It was a brutal way to lose for Navy, which out-shot Army, 40-21, and won the ground ball battle by a 37-22 margin, while Army committed 22 turnovers. But Navy could not match its hustle with skill, quickness or defensive discipline.

Army, which took just five shots in the first half and amazingly trailed by three -- despite shooting 80 percent – stunned the Mids in the opening six minutes of the third quarter by scoring four straight goals. That run that gave the Black Knights an 8-7 edge with 9:03 left in the period.

Palesky sparked two fast-break scores with saves during that telling sequence. Henderson took a feed in transition and buried a 15-yarder in the upper right corner to tie the game at 7-7. Thul then gave the Black Knights an 8-7 lead with 9:03 left, after taking a perfect, behind-the-net feed from Boltus while leaning over the crease.

Navy answered to make it 8-8 on an accidental score by midfielder Jay Mann, whose pass caromed off the stick of Army defenseman Larry LoRusso and into the net. But Army was off and running for good, as Boltus went on a personal, three-goal run that essentially knocked out the Mids.

Boltus nailed a low, seven-yarder from the right wing off a Thul pass from behind the goal, finished a fast break with a great freeze dodge and shot inside in the closing seconds of the third, then scored unassisted to make it 11-8 with 13:52 left in the game.

Thul then scored an unassisted goal to make it 12-8 with 9:36 left, and after Navy managed just one goal during a two-minute stretch when Army played with a man down, the Mids were done.

Freshman attackman Tucker Hull led Navy with three goals and one assist. Midfielder Kevin Doyle had two goals.

"I think we have a good team. We're not as good as we need to be," Navy coach Richie Meade said. "We did good things. Army did better things. They are very, very dangerous in transition. We did not protect our back court. And we only had one save."

As for losing to Army three straight times and being out of the Patriot League tournament, Meade said, "This is very different, and I take responsibility for the whole thing. It's reality. We have to embrace reality. We've got to get prepared to play Johns Hopkins."

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