May 29, 2011

Last-Second Save Preserves Mercyhurst's First Title, Redemption of 2007 Near-Miss

by Corey McLaughlin | | NCAA Championship Sunday Blog

Mercyhurst goalkeeper Zach Nash stopped a Kieran Riegal bounce shot on a breakaway with two seconds left to prevent overtime and preserve the Lakers' 9-8 victory over Adelphi in the NCAA Division II championship game.

© Lee Weissman

BALTIMORE – Working within the confines of its patient, deliberate offense, the Mercyhurst men's lacrosse team built a three-goal third-quarter lead and held off Adelphi, 9-8, with a late-second save to win its first NCAA Division II championship Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Junior midfielder Ian Wild scored four goals for the third-seeded Lakers (14-2), and goaltender Zach Nash stopped a Kieran Riegel bounce shot on a breakaway down the right alley with two seconds left to preserve the victory and prevent overtime. It was the first title-game win for Mercyhurst in its second appearance in 15 seasons as a program.

"I didn't really want to have to have a last save like that," Nash said of the final sequence, which came off a restart with 16 seconds left across midfield. "I just read his shoulders. He looked right down at the ground, just followed his stick and followed the ball all the way down. It bounced off my chest."

The last-second heroics offered a bit of sweet redemption for the Mercyhurst program, which lost on a fluky last-second goal against Le Moyne in the 2007 title game, its only other championship game appearance, on the same field in Baltimore. This time the last seconds worked in its favor.

The game matched contrasting styles: Mercyhurst's settled offense versus Adelphi's run-and-gun approach under Australian-native coach and Adelphi alum Gordon Purdie, who brought the Panthers to their first championship game since 2001. They finished 16-3.

Adelphi's Jesse Colamussi won 15 of 19 faceoffs and the Panthers won 16 of 21 as a team, but 15 turnovers held them back and the offense never clicked, Purdie said. They relied heavily on one-on-one dodging efforts by attackman Joe Vitale (three goals, two assists and 10 of the team's 37 shots).

"Even in man-up situations, he was dodging," Purdie said of Vitale. "They've got strong physical defenders that step out and play, and that caused some of the turnovers. It's disappointing we didn't get more quality shots on goal, because one more quality shot and we'd have a different outcome."

Mercyhurst finished the season without allowing double-digit goals in any game, and in this one the forced turnovers combined with scooping 18 second-half ground balls "at least got us a little bit of some breathing room and we were able to pull it out," Lakers coach Chris Ryan said. Defenseman Matt Scherer led with four ground balls and picked up the loose ball in front of Nash after it bounced to the turf off his chest.

Mercyhurst 9, Adelphi 8

* Last-Second Save Preserves Mercyhurst's First NCAA Title

* Wild Makes Good on Guarantee, Named Most Outstanding Player

* Live Blog Replay

The Lakers didn't score in the fourth quarter, but they led 8-5 with 4:52 left in the third quarter on a Brian Scheetz goal and 9-6 with 2:15 remaining on Wild's fourth. Adelphi scored two straight to pull within one, but was unable to score again after Danny Blau converted a terrific no-look lefty shot on the crease with a long pole in his face as he tried to get topside. Mercyhurst held Adelphi scoreless for the final 6:29 and killed off nearly two minutes of clock when Adelphi pressured the ball looking to grab possession to tie it.

When Adelphi got a final chance, "I was in sheer panic," Ryan said as he saw Riegel dart to the goal with defenseman Andrew Wagner doing his best to stop him.

The ensuing save by Nash was a welcome sight for a team and a group of seniors that didn't even make the four-team postseason last year with a 13-1 record. The win also capped a postseason run that included a 14-4 upset of defending champion C.W. Post.

"This whole team wanted a national championship more than I feel any other team," Nash said. "We got in, beat [C.W.] Post, kept on going and got the championship game. For all of the seniors on this team, it's incredible."

Some celebrations were also made by Mercyhurst alumni. Ryan said he spoke with class of 2007 senior Scott Janssen, who was in town with this mother from British Columbia to watch the game, at an alumni function Saturday night in Baltimore. Janssen told Ryan he thinks about the 2007 Mercyhurst-Le Moyne title game constantly, saying he had two passes and a shot that he wish he could take back that he think may have changed the 6-5 outcome, which turned on a Mike McDonald goal with one second left.

"He felt like he and the guys he had spoke with from the class of 2007, that a win today would help alleviate some of that pain that was lingering," Ryan said of Janssen, who scored 65 goals in a four-year career for 10th on the school's all-time scoring list. "I think about the 2007 guys every day. I'm so very glad that they can find some solace in this."

So there was enough inspiration there, but Ryan, a former hockey player and fan of the late United States hockey coach Herb Brooks, said he was planning on creating some more this tournament run. He was waited waiting all season to show a clip from the movie "Miracle" and decided he would show it before the team played C.W. Post in the semifinals last week. But when he went to find the clip, it was erased from his DVR.

"My whole plan was coming together and then all of sudden it got blown up," Ryan said. "I do use Coach Brooks and sometimes his methods."

There were no miracles needed Sunday, but an important last-second save that exorcised the memories of a lost championship past.

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