April 22, 2014

Lehigh Pulls Away from Navy in Patriot Quarterfinal

by Justin Lafleur | LaxMagazine.com

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The third-seeded and 18th nationally-ranked Lehigh men’s lacrosse team knew they would be in for a challenge against sixth-seeded Navy. Despite beating the Midshipmen 13-2 in the regular season, it was clear from the beginning that a different Navy team showed up for Tuesday’s Patriot League Quarterfinal showdown.

The Mountain Hawks are used to playing tight, low-scoring games, and that was certainly the case on Tuesday night. Lehigh went more than 21 minutes without scoring and scored eight of its ten goals in two runs that totaled less than nine minutes of game action, but the Mountain Hawks made plays when it mattered most in a 10-6 win over the Midshipmen.

The Lehigh defense allowed seven or fewer goals for the eighth time in its last nine games, spearheaded by two-time All-American goalie Matt Poillon who made all 15 of his saves over the final three quarters and seven in the second quarter.

“I don’t necessarily think we were sharp on either end of the field to begin, so it’s good to know you have an All-American to backstop your defense when you’re not playing great,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “Matty put in an All-American effort tonight. I’m proud of the way he played. I thought he played loose, relaxed and looked like his All-American self.”

The win sets up a Patriot League Semifinal showdown against second-seeded Army on Friday night.

“That was an absolute battle,” said Cassese. “I give all the credit in the world to Navy. They dealt with quite a bit of adversity over the last 48 to 72 hours. They showed up and played their hearts out. I thought they carried the pace of play early in the game. I thought our guys responded well late in the first half and late in the game. We were fortunate enough to get the victory. It was everything that I expect when we play a service academy.”

The Midshipmen took a 2-1 lead after one quarter behind goals from Tucker Hull and Kevin Wendel, but Lehigh scored four goals in the first 5:35 of the second quarter to take a 5-2 lead. In fact, all four goals came in barely over two and a half minutes, scored by Reid Weber, Patrick Corbett, Dan Taylor and Kurtis Kaunas, who posted first-career hat trick. Those four each scored multiple goals on the evening, combining for nine of Lehigh’s 10 for the game.

Navy responded by shutting out the Mountain Hawks for the next 21:49, as Sam Jones and Hull pulled the Mids within 5-4 until Lehigh’s Matt Smith gave the Mountain Hawks a two-goal third-quarter cushion.

“We were able to get to within one a few times (5-4 and 6-5), but we just couldn’t get that goal to pull us even,” said Navy head coach Rick Sowell. “Looking back, that four-goal run they made in the second quarter was tough to come back from, but we did not give up until the clock hit zero.”

A tight game for the next nine minutes turned in favor of the Mountain Hawks midway through the fourth quarter and it was Kaunas who was in the middle of the action again. The speedy midfielder beat Navy goalie John Connors low to make it 7-5 with 8:09 remaining, sparking another 4-0 Mountain Hawks’ run. Weber, Taylor and Corbett rounded out the Lehigh scoring before Hull scored his third of the game for the 10-6 final.

Coming off a slim 6-5 loss to No. 5 Johns Hopkins on Saturday, the Midshipmen also took No. 1 Loyola to overtime this month. For Navy, it was another close defeat in a season full of them. The season isn’t over, though, as the squad will face Maryland next weekend.

“It was another hard-fought battle for the Midshipmen,” said Sowell. “We have had a long stretch against some really talented teams (Loyola, Army, Johns Hopkins, Lehigh) and there’s a lot of emotion that goes into those games. I’m extremely proud of the way we came out and competed against a team that got us pretty good a month ago. Lehigh is a talented team and well-coached and at the end of the night, they made a few more plays than us.”

There were many bright spots for Navy, who saw five of its six goals scored by Hull (three goals) and Jones (two goals, one assists). Brady Dove was dominant at the faceoff X, winning 13-of-19 with six groundballs and Connors was a big reason the Mountain Hawks offense was kept at bay, making 13 saves including six in the third quarter. Navy was playing its first Patriot League Tournament game since 2010.

“We knew we were a better team than what showed up the last time we played here,” said Sowell. “I think tonight was a combination of it being a playoff game and the confidence we have gained over the last few weeks. We certainly wanted to leave it all on the field tonight and I honestly couldn’t have been more proud of the effort my team gave.”

For two-time defending Patriot League Champion Lehigh, the win sets up a rematch with Army, who defeated the Mountain Hawks 6-5 last month. Lehigh was leading 5-3 going into the fourth quarter, but the Black Knights stormed back for the victory. Along with what’s obviously on the line - a trip to Sunday’s championship game - Friday’s contest features the top two defenses in the nation. Army is number one, allowing just 5.92 goals per game while the Mountain Hawks are two, giving up 6.44.

Lehigh-Army will be the second of a Patriot League Semifinal doubleheader as fourth-seeded Colgate faces host and top seed Loyola at 4:30 p.m. Both games, along with Sunday’s Patriot League Title game, will air live on CBS Sports Network.

“We’re on our service academy tour right now,” said Cassese. “We’re fortunate to be heading down to Baltimore to play Army again. It’s a team we know well and a team that beat us the first time around. We know what we’re in for. Every time we play Army, it’s a physical battle. It’s typically a close game. Two great defenses; they’re number one in the country and we’re number two. We need to learn from this one and get ready for the next one on the schedule which happens to be Army on Friday night.”

“Every game is treated the same way,” said Poillon. “Army has always been a tough competitor of ours. I don’t think we need any more motivation than the fact that we’re playing for a championship right now and we’re playing a great team. We’ll come out focused and ready to go. It’s going to be a good one.”

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