March 24, 2014

MD2 Notebook: Molloy Puts Itself on the Map

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Molloy senior goalie John Grebe made 16 saves in the Lions' upset victory over LIU Post. "He saw the ball and came up with some big-time saves late in the game," said Molloy head coach Eric Petrullo. "He cleared the ball well and really stepped up and led the team."  (Cody Snapp)

In one writer's musing, for as much talent as Molloy had entering this season, it wouldn't mean much until the Lions proved they could hang with the very best in the ECC – something they failed to do last spring. On Saturday, Molloy grabbed an early lead and held on for an 8-7 victory over conference heavyweight LIU Post.

Could this be the win the Lions needed to establish themselves as a true player?

"This is it, man," said a jubilant head coach Eric Petrullo an hour after the victory on Saturday. "This is definitely a big-time win that let's everybody know we're for real. We're still young at some places and we have to clean some stuff up, but this is a step in the right direction. The kids know now that, hey, we're for real. The staff always knew we were pretty good, but the kids have to believe in that now."

Heading into this contest the belief was certainly wavering.

The Lions had lost an excruciating overtime game to ECC foe Chestnut Hill the weekend before and then laid an egg against a winless St. Anselm squad on Wednesday. The midweek setback to the Hawks – a team Molloy rolled, 13-5, last year – left a mark.

"It was definitely an attention-grabber," Petrullo admitted. "We beat them pretty good last year and we rolled out thinking we can beat these guys. And they are a pretty good team. We fell down early and we tried to claw back. The guys realized, 'Hey, we have to show up every single day. We're not that good.' After the two losses, you saw [the players] dip a little bit. To come out today and get a win after that, it took a lot of heart."

At the beginning, it looked like Molloy might run away from the Pioneers. The Lions scored the first four goals of the game, including markers by Tom Engelhardt and Sal Geneva 10 seconds apart. Petrullo knew this was just the first salvo in a long battle.

"I've been around for a while and I went to New York Tech, so I've dealt with these Post guys for a long time. I know that you can't count them out," he said. "Just because we're up 4-0 doesn't mean they were giving up. That's exactly what happened. They kind of crawled back into it and we left the door open."

Helped by a first-half hat trick from Joe Costello, LIU Post managed to tie the game at five heading into halftime and the Pioneers definitely had all the momentum. Was it panic time in the Molloy locker room at the break?

"They were very upbeat," Petrullo said of his players. "They knew it was going to be a battle and that Post is a very well-coached team and the kids are great. We jumped out early, but we knew they were going to catch their groove sooner or later. But we buckled down again and straightened some things out. We made some adjustments during the middle of the game and we kind of shut them down. They didn't really score again until late in the game."

The Lions backline, anchored by senior netminder John Grebe (16 saves), blanked the Pioneers for nearly 28 minutes to start the second half. They allowed the last goal with three seconds left to cut the margin to one, but the game was in the bag at that point.

And the celebration began.

"For me, it's the biggest win of my career," Petrullo said. "As far as the program goes, I let the players know that it took a lot of hours and it took a lot of work, and to see the program get to where it is now, it's really exciting. The kids were ecstatic. We now know that if we play our game, we can play with anyone. We haven't done that before, but today it all came together."

Lange, Pfeiffer Not Taking the Bait

If the season ended today, Pfeiffer would be one of the four teams representing the South region to the NCAA tournament. The season doesn't end today, and that's the reason Jason Lange won't entertain any discussion of postseason possibilities.

There are just too many games left.

"That's the beauty and the curse of Division II: the more you keep winning, it's great for you and your program, but the next week's game is that much bigger," said Pfeiffer head coach Jason Lange. "And with only four spots in the region and more than four qualified teams to go on to the national tournament, you just have to keep winning."

The Falcons solidified itself among the South's top quad with their 8-7 comeback victory over Seton Hill. Pfeiffer trailed 7-6 with under 10 minutes left in the contest, but James Shepherd and Tom Buckley countered down the stretch.

"The way that our guys responded was phenomenal," Lange said. "We talked all week about how it was going to be a battle. They are going to score goals and you are going to face adversity, but you have to keep focusing on doing the little things right, playing for your teammates and making the unselfish play."

Shepherd, who finished with three goals, and Buckley, who scored the game-winner, were given games balls by Lange. The third one was reserved for goalie Hayden Kirk, who made 10 saves, but the netminder was carrying the torch for a defense that held one of the more dynamic offenses in check.

"With [attackman Matt] Delmonico especially, we knew he was good when he got to the five and five, so we got the defenseman there quickly to turn the ball over or get it out of his stick," Lange said of the defensive approach. "He did score three goals against us, but a good player is going to get his points, so it's limiting him to three and not letting him get six. We did a good job of that. We threw a little zone at him and we hadn't shown any zone this year because we knew it was going to be a battle and you need to show a wrinkle every now and again. They got some good shots, but Hayden Kirk stepped up big and made some big saves."

Lange is unwilling to look past Wednesday's conference game because it's in the contract of every coach not too look past the next contest, but also because the win over Seton Hill was as close as its get.

"They had a look at the end of the game and fortunately for us, the ball hit the crossbar and came out," Lange said of Seton Hill's last possession. "It was just one of those games where neither team deserved to lose. No one gave an inch and it was a great game to watch and be a part of."

For those of us who can look ahead, Pfeiffer should be 9-1 heading into the non-conference clash with Queens – a team that recently defeated Mercyhurst, which in turn beat the Falcons. Then, of course, there's Limestone awaiting at the end of the regular season and then likely again in the Conference Carolinas championship game.

In the meantime, there are several programs who could make their season by ruining Pfeiffer's.

"I absolutely want the players to be aware that the five or six games that we have left are Super Bowls for the other teams, which it should be," Lange said. "Especially this time of year with conference play and games every Wednesday and Saturday, we need to be even more prepared going down this stretch. I definitely want the guys to know that the target is on our back."

Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week

John Grebe, Sr., G - Molloy
With the Lions attempting to beat LIU Post for one of the few times in program history, it was Grebe who would step up and make it happen. He made 16 saves on the afternoon, including 11 stops in the second half when the Pioneers were trying to rally from a three goal deficit. "John played great," said Molloy head coach Eric Petrullo. "He saw the ball and came up with some big-time saves late in the game. He cleared the ball well and really stepped up and led the team."

Honor Roll

Max Allen (Merrimack), Sam Ashton (Lenoir-Rhyne), Kam Bumpus (Le Moyne), Garrett Chan (Queens), Matt Crough (Dowling), Kiel Crowley-Galvin (Dominican-Calif.), Eric Dolan (Queens), Joseph Donnelly (Chestnut Hill), Stephen Dunn (Colorado Mesa), Andrew Failla (Tampa), Mike Hubert (Roberts Wesleyan), Tyler Johnson (Wheeling Jesuit), Ryan Maurer (Coke), Jake McAndrew (Mercyhurst), Josh McCullough (Alderson-Broaddus), C.J. Nichols (Florida Tech), Alex Petsos (Rollins), Andrew Reilly (Brevard), Clay Robbins (Dist. Columbia), Nick Starnino (Limestone), Trevor Tarte (Lake Erie), Nick Watson (Adelphi), Morgan Weireter (Southern N.H.).

Bracket Watch

After some minor tweaking over the last couple of weeks, the brackets get some fresh faces in this edition. In the North, Merrimack gets slotted into the fourth seed, bumping LIU Post after the Pioneers picked up their second in-region loss against Molloy while the Warriors still only have the one. Dowling's win over NYIT hands the Bears a second in-region setback and solidifies the Lions lock on the third spot. Merrimack has to be considered a space-filler at this point because the Warriors host LIU Post on April 2, and that will go a long way in hashing out the last spot.

In the South, Limestone's win over Tampa gives the Saints a stranglehold on the top spot, but Pfeiffer's one-goal win over Seton Hill – giving the Griffins a second in-region loss – vaults Tampa into the second chair despite the loss. Pfeiffer moves into the third spot and Seton Hill is the last team in at this point. Mercyhurst is just off the screen, but they have the remaining strength of schedule to quickly make up for their two in-region losses to date.

Merrimack (4-2) at Le Moyne (7-0)
Dowling (5-1) at Adelphi (6-0)

Seton Hill (4-2) at Limestone (9-1)
Pfeiffer (6-1) at Tampa (8-1)

Slides & Rides

The Le Moyne lacrosse team at halftime of NCAA basketball tournament game in Buffalo. (Le Moyne Athletics)

- Two of the teams in last week's Lacrosse Magazine rankings that were in a tenuous position will hang around for another week after picking up overtime victories on Sunday. Chestnut Hill continued its high wire act by taking down a dangerous Mercy squad, 6-5. Michael Landau scored the game-winner midway through the first overtime, but the Griffins defense was the key. Joseph Donnelly made 13 saves and Mercy's standout playmaker Jesse Wood was limited to just one assist.

Florida Southern's victory was far more improbable. The Mocs were getting drilled, 12-6, to start the fourth quarter, but Marty Ward's troops scored six straight to tie the game with 3:10 left in regulation, helped by six goals from Dane Sorensen. Just 43 seconds into overtime, Kevin Naslonski completed the comeback and kept the Mocs – however distant – in the postseason discussion.

- Anyone who watched the Limestone-Tampa contest couldn't help but come away impressed with Saints long-stick middie Anthony Starnino. Whether it was picking off passes in front of the cage (he ended with eight caused turnovers against the Spartans), playing solid defense or acting as a one-man clear, Starnino was often times the best player on the field.

"Anthony is one of our best athletes," said Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke. "He is a terrific hockey player who only picked up a lacrosse stick six years ago. We had to play him at long pole middie in the past, but he is a natural defender. We thought he could have a terrific senior year and, with his work ethic, he gets better every day."

Starnino has the ability to cause havoc all over the field because he has some steady players operating on close defense, along with Patrick Sheridan in the cage.

"Coach [Carroll] Kennedy has really worked well with the close defense," Clarke said. "Peter Papaleonti and Glenn Trovato allow Anthony to take chances."

Limestone now assumes the assumed No. 1 slot in the South with the win over Tampa. It's certainly nothing new to the Saints, but Clarke said his team doesn't get a chance to get caught up in the newspaper clippings.

"We don't get much press out of Gaffney, so the messages they are hearing are the ones from within," Clarke said. "They have been through a really tough stretch, playing four Top 7 opponents in four weeks and we have another 9-1 team next weekend."

- Colorado Mesa started its four-game spring break trip to Florida on Sunday with a game against Rollins and the Mavericks managed to pull out an 11-9 victory. Mesa made things difficult for itself by ceding 20 of the 24 faceoffs to the Tars, so the victory was a good one. A.J. Stevens' crew will face its biggest test on Wednesday evening when they face Tampa. The Mavs NCAA chances are remote based on schedule strength, but a win over the Spartans would keep them in the overall mix.

- More than a little surprised that Merrimack was caught up in a tie game with winless AIC midway through the third quarter. The Warriors pulled out a 10-7 victory, but that's an underwhelming victory...St. Michael's finally picked up its first win by beating Saint Rose...impressive defensive effort by Saint Leo in blanking Lynn, appears that Tyler Nash has assumed the starting goaltending role for Mercyhurst...Queens came perilously close to squandering its win over Mercyhurst against Wingate. The Royals' 12-5 third-quarter lead nearly disappeared in the final 16 minutes of a 13-12 victory...the rivalry between Dominican (Calif.) and Notre Dame de Namur is on life support. The Penguins buried the Argos, 23-4.

- Le Moyne improved to 7-0 on Friday evening with a 10-6 win over NE-10 rival Bentley in front of 156 fans, but the night before, the Dolphins played to a house of 19,000. Dan Sheehan's outfit was feted at halftime of the NCAA basketball tournament second round game between Syracuse and Western Michigan at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo (see photo). The team watched the contest in courtside seats before hopping on the bus for the drive to Waltham to face the Falcons.

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