March 28, 2011

Making Sense: Riley's Improbable Goal Widens the Hunt in Division II

by Jac Coyne | | Twitter

After a tough day, Dowling faceoff man Louis Riley (above) made an improbable run to the goal and scored his first career marker to sink two-time defending champion C.W. Post in overtime. As unlikely as Riley's performance was, it may just be the start of an improbable finish in Division II.

© Lee Weissman

Louis Riley was having a bad day.

Riley, the faceoff man for the Dowling men's lacrosse team, had been spectacular until Saturday's game against C.W. Post, winning 74.4 percent of his draws. But in the clash with the top-ranked Pioneers, he was struggling.

Going up against the Pioneers' Ronnie Irving, Riley got dominated, winning just five of 16 faceoffs.

Not surprisingly, Riley was down in the dumps despite the Lions' late 7-5 lead against the defending NCAA Division II champions.

"For a faceoff middie, if they aren't winning the faceoffs and getting the offense possessions, they feel like they aren't doing their job," said Dowling head coach Tim Boyle.

When C.W. Post narrowed the margin to 7-6 with 31 seconds left, Boyle brought Riley in and gave him brief instructions.

"We said, 'Lou, whatever you do, you have to keep the ball down, because there are only 30 seconds left in the game. Just keep the ball down and keep the clamp down and whatever happens after that we'll figure out, but we'll burn 10 seconds,'" said Boyle. "Unfortunately, the kid won it forward and Lou felt bad about that. He just didn't get the jump he wanted. He didn't time the whistle very well."

Post pushed it into the attack zone, called a timeout and Eddie Plompen cashed in with three seconds left to tie the game. As Dowling convened at the end of regulation to figure out the game plan for overtime, the staff kept things broad. There was no specific instruction for Riley; just a tap on the helmet and an encouraging look.

"We talked about what we were going to do if we won the faceoff and what we were going to do if we lost the faceoff," Boyle said. "We were trying not to go crazy with him and keep the pressure level as low as possible, even though the pressure was through the roof. We went over how we wanted to set up. Fortunately, we didn't have to do anything because Lou did it all himself."

In an ending fit for a movie -- you have to imagine it in slow motion to truly appreciate the Hollywood effect -- Riley timed the opening faceoff in overtime perfectly, winning the ball forward. He scooped it in stride. He sprinted as fast as he could toward the goal, as Boyle frantically signalled for a timeout on the sidelines. The officials could not hear his pleas.

Two poles closed in on Riley for the double team just inside the restraining line. With surprising agility, Riley split the double team, leaving nothing between him and the net but Pioneer goalie Mike Giordano. He brought his stick back and flung the ball just over Giordano's off-stick shoulder to give the Lions the win. It was his first career goal.

"Their faceoff kid has been good all year, and he came up with a good time to win a faceoff," said C.W. Post head coach John Jez. "He split that double and scored. It was a great goal for him."

"On a day when he felt like he needed to do better because it is a game of inches -- which the games with Post usually are -- what he did was monumental," said Boyle. "I was so happy for him after the game."

Riley's day is so compelling because of the improbability of what transpired. In this way, his day mirrors the entire Division II season to this point. A series of improbable events, including Dowling's upset of Post, has resulted in chaos.

Typically, each week of the season chips away at the contenders until we're left with just a handful of legitimate teams worthy of the four-team NCAA tournament. It doesn't always fit into a nice package -- like last year, when the committee had to choose between Dowling, C.W. Post and Mercyhurst out of the Central region -- but at least the candidates are known.

This year has been the opposite. Each week a presumed leader of the race has faltered, expanding the number of teams who believe they are in the hunt instead of narrowing the group. It's great for the fans of the sport, but a nightmare for the coaches.

"You'd like to think you can relax, but you can't," Boyle said. "The pressure level is high no matter what your record is if you think you are in the hunt. Even when you're undefeated like C.W. Post [was], they can't relax, because if they lose a game they are even with everyone else."

Limestone is the only undefeated team left in Division II and the only team that qualifies as a lock for the postseason. That could obviously change this week when the Saints play a 7-1 Queens team. If Limestone loses that game, it will join a one-loss group that currently consists of eight teams from all three regions. NYIT and Catawba are just a step back with two losses.

With the winners of the North and Central region up in the air and the wild card race wide open, the weekly grind has turned into a competition between the teams that can keep their focus against the good teams as well as those thought to be out of contention.

"If one team is up a little bit more than your team, you're going to lose," Jez said. "Who thought Chestnut Hill and Mercy would beat Mercyhurst and Tech? But they came with more energy. I thought Dowling played with more energy and played harder than us. Hopefully our guys can rebound."

For Boyle, it's about concentrating on your current opponent, even if you have a better team or a bigger rivalry waiting in the next game.

"I think that's when teams get caught," he said. "I think that's when Mercyhurst got caught, and when Tech got caught, and when we got caught. You get caught when you look too far ahead in this division. The only thing you can look at is the next play."

Boyle may let Louis Riley look back at his last play, maybe just this once.

Game Balls

Erich Benesch – Attack, Mars Hill
Mars Hill handed Catawba its second loss of the season, 12-5, and the senior was the difference in the game. Literally. Benesch scored seven goals for the Lions, including the first four of the game.

Jason Crawford – Goalie, Randolph-Macon
The Yellow Jackets came close to pulling the stunning upset of Roanoke thanks to the play of the junior from Canada. Crawford made 21 stops before the Maroons were able to finish the job in overtime.

Will DeLanoy – Attack, St. Vincent
The Bearcats are trying to stay in the thick of the Pool B hunt and, thanks to the juniors five goals in a 16-9 win over Kenyon, they are. DeLanoy now has 20 goals and 17 assists in eight games for 6-2 St. Vincent.

Steve Foglietta – Goalie, Tufts
There was no letdown for the junior after the big Stevenson win -- a contest in which he made 24 saves. Foglietta made 17 more saves in a 12-6 win against Williams to push the Jumbos to 5-0. His save percentage is at 63.0 percent now.

Gary Guinta – Attack, Bates
For the second time in six years, a ranked Wesleyan team traveled to Bates and came home with a loss. This time, it was the sophomore who helped sink the Cardinals with four goals -- his first four goals of the season.

Eric Nelson – Attack, Arizona State
After the Sun Devils 6-5 setback to No. 3 Colorado State on Friday, they needed a lift against No. 6 Colorado on Sunday and the senior provided it. Nelson struck for six goals and set up two others as the ASU rocked the Buffs, 15-5.

Louis Riley – FOGO, Dowling
What a time to score your first career goal. The sophomore, who had been struggling all day, took the opening draw in overtime, split a double-team and sunk the game winner for No. 5 Dowling in the Lions' victory over No. 1 C.W. Post.

Patrick Stasio – Goalie, Lenoir-Rhyne
The first-year Lenoir-Rhyne program notched its first road victory on Sunday, thanks to the junior. Stasio made 18 saves, helping the Bears post a 13-12 victory over Rollins.

Trevor Yealy – Attack, Michigan
It was another clean sweep for Michigan as the Wolverines beat No. 13 Boston College and then shutout No. 10 UC Santa Barbara, and Yealy was a big factor, scoring seven goals and dishing out an assist. He also chipped in with a team leading 13 ground balls. "He's doing it all for us right now," said UM head coach John Paul. "So much more than scoring."

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Limestone (9-0) – It's not even April and the Saints are the lone remaining undefeated in all of Division II. No place left to put them.
2. Dowling (6-1) – Louis Riley's goal was the big strike, but Ryan Dougherty's dozen saves can't be overlooked.
3. C.W. Post (9-1) – Now the defense of their title really starts: NYIT and Mercyhurst are on the way and there's no margin for error.
4. Le Moyne (4-1) – The Dolphins are making quick work of the lull in their schedule. It gets more difficult as April unfolds.
5. Queens (7-1) – Lots of teams could be here, but we'll give the Royals a breather in the Fives after their seven overtime win.

NCAA Division III
1. Tufts (5-0) – It seemed like the Jumbos won in spite of goalie Steve Foglietta at last year. Now they are winning because of him.
2. Salisbury (9-0) – They may not be the prolific Sea Gulls teams of years past, but 9-0 is 9-0. Salisbury moves up.
3. Stevenson (9-1) – Can't drop the Mustangs down too far, but they are definitely behind their CAC rivals.
4. Cortland (4-1) – Interesting mid-week matchup with RIT on Wednesday. It'll be 11 days since the Red Dragons last played.
5. Stevens (8-0) – This spot has been the kiss of death for two NESCACs (Midd, Wesleyan), so the Ducks will try to reverse the trend.

MCLA Division I
1. Michigan (9-0) – Nothing to see here. Move along.
2. Colorado State (6-0) – You figure the Rams will lose to Michigan. But will they get embarrassed like Santa Barbara?
3. Arizona State (7-1) – The rebound win over Colorado should give the Sun Devils confidence as they head on the Michigan trip.
4. Cal Poly (8-2) – I don't think there's another loss on the Mustangs' schedule until Denver. Possibly Oregon on the road, but that's about it.
5. BYU (10-2) – The Cougars are clearly a team that has more confidence playing at home. They only leave Provo one more time.

MCLA Division II
1. Grand Valley State (7-0) – That Grove City game in two weeks is looking a lot less interesting than it did on Friday morning.
2. St. Thomas (6-1) – Only one truly exciting game left on the docket now, and that's the annual clash with the Johnnies.
3. St. John's (6-0) – Starting next Saturday, the Johnnies will be playing six games in nine days. Wouldn't be surprised if they won them all.
4. Western Oregon (8-1) – The Wolves play four games in April, and they should win all four by double-digits.
5. Dayton (6-1) – I toyed with the idea of having Briarcliffe here, but Grove City and Davenport ain't what they used to be.

Monday Notebooks

NCAA Division II: Queens and Pfeiffer play longest game in NCAA history.
NCAA Division III: Should we start considering Stevens a "contender."
MCLA Division I: This weekend will determine whether Denver is a formality.
MCLA Division II: Knee-jerk first round match-ups at nationals.

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