May 18, 2014

MD2 Semifinals: Can LIU Post Keep Run Alive?

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

LIU Post head coach John Jez didn't necessarily think the Pioneers would get into the tourney, but they've certainly taken advantage of their opportunity. Now they stand 60 minutes away from their first championship visit since 2010. (Kevin P. Tucker)

There was no team get-together with pizza and wings in a campus classroom to watch the selection show two weeks ago. There were no conversations of potential match-ups or travel plans. Once LIU Post had disbanded following its win in the ECC championship game on Saturday, that was that.

"I personally thought we were out," said Pioneers head coach John Jez. "The team went home and watched it individually on their own. When we got the call and saw the video, we were super-excited to continue to play, but there was four teams on the bubble between Merrimack, ourselves, Dowling and New York Tech for the last two spots. Who know who was going to get those two spots?"

Two weeks later, Jez and his players are 60 minutes from playing for a national championship – something the Pioneers haven't done since 2010 when they won a second straight crown.

A lot of the credit has to go to Jez, who kept this team focused despite seemingly heavy odds against it. It's never easy to keep a team churning forward when there appears to be very little incentive left, even with the advent of the ECC tourney this year.

Jez gives all the credit to the players.

"When we were down in the last two weeks of the season, our record was 6-5, and they pulled it together and the guys got us to 9-5 by the end of the tournament," he said. "They don't want their season to end. They are playing tough. It's a great group of senior leaders and we're riding on their energy more than anything else."

It was a senior and two graduate students who were critical in the Pioneers improbable win over defending national champion Le Moyne in the quarterfinals. It started with senior Dom Mantovani, who won 10-of-16 faceoffs against the incomparable Kam Bumpus while also grabbing eight ground balls.

Jez has tapped into the '10 championship team to help Mantovani, adding Michael Cama to the staff as a volunteer assistant. Cama was the specialist of the year and two-time All-American for Post as a FOGO during its repeat seasons, and has elevated Mantovani's game.

"Cama came in here and helped us out and worked with our faceoff guys and he has matured those guys pretty quickly," Jez said. "That's a big reason why we're winning games right now: we're able to hold our own out there."

Graduate students Joe Costello and T.J. DiCarlo were also critical in defeating the Dolphins. Costello, who was the two-time MCLA (club) player of the year at St. Thomas (Minn.), scored four of the Pioneers' nine goals against Le Moyne. DiCarlo, who was the goalie of the year in NCAA Division II during his undergrad days at Mercy, turned away 14 shots in the victory.

"T.J. is staying big in the goal and making big saves," Jez said. "Fourteen saves is a great number for him and between him and Joe, our two graduate students, they took the bull by the horns Saturday. They didn't want their season to end and they played great."

Now LIU Post must turn its sights to Adelphi, a team that defeated the Pioneers back on March 11, 11-7. Jez had a different team two months ago, however. After the Le Moyne game, the coach encouraged his players to worry about the present.

"Way to keep it rolling, way to ride on the senior momentum and way to be vindicated," Jez told his team on Saturday. "There was a bunch of stuff going around. We didn't have the best record during the course of the year and we had some hiccups, but we've proved we're a quality team."

LIU Post (10-5) at Adelphi (17-1) – Sunday, 1 p.m.

With how far the Pioneers have come since the first meeting back in early March, is there really anything we can take from that first match-up?

"They caused a lot of problems that we'll have to overcome," Jez said, cryptically, about Adelphi.

To be fair to Jez, that was before the conclusion of the other quarterfinal and he didn't know that the top-ranked Panthers would definitely be his opponent. But he's correct. Adelphi has caused problems for everybody this year (with the exception of NYIT), and will be a handful for LIU Post.

Limestone long-stick middie P.J. White (left) and the rest of the Saints defense will have their hands full with the potent Tampa offense on Sunday. (John Strohsacker)

Not to say that the Panthers are taking the Pioneers lightly.

"To win at Le Moyne is always tough and I think Jez has them believing at this point," Adelphi head coach Gordon Purdie said.

In the first game, which the Panthers won, 11-7, Adelphi put the clamps on the Pioneers, racing out to a 7-0 lead and coasting home. LIU Post managed just 15 shots on net and the powerful sophomore duo of Matty Beccaris and Ryan Slane was held to just one goal and two assists. The faceoffs were relatively even (13-for-22 in Adelphi's favor), but the Panthers were in control of the game save for a five minute stretch in the fourth quarter when the contest was already decided.

Adelphi did have the services of Nick Watson in that game. The attackman scored two goals and set up a third, but it's not known whether Watson – who has missed the last several games – will be ready to play on Sunday. That would be one less weapon for the LIU Post defense to worry about, although Connor Duddy, who netted a hat trick in the first meeting out of the midfield, has been an able replacement for Watson.

Regardless of who is on the field, both teams should be energized by the crowd.

"This game means a lot to Long Island," Purdie said. "We're expecting a lot of people here on Sunday."

Can LIU Post continue the magical run by slaying yet another heavy favorite on the road? They are certainly playing at a level where it is well within the realm of possibility. But Adelphi is a team that is just as hot right now, especially playing on its own field. Sal Tuttle and the Panthers will be just a goal better on Sunday.

Adelphi, 12-11.

Tampa (16-2) at Limestone (17-1) – Sunday, 1 p.m.

The first meeting between these two South region powers was billed as a clash of potent offenses. It ended up being a grinder, with Limestone taking the 8-5 decision. The teams combined for just 63 shots, the faceoffs were a wash (8-of-15 for the Saints), and the goalies were superb – Tampa's Andrew Failla with 16 saves, Limestone's Patrick Sheridan with 11 stops – producing a compelling contest that was a one-goal affair heading into the fourth.

Should we expect another defensive slugfest?

"I would expect it to be a little more high-scoring this time," said J.B. Clarke, Limestone's head coach. "When you pit two good teams against each other by this time of the year, it's a little bit warmer, the ball is flying around, the stick work is better and the shooting is better."

"Limestone putting up some big numbers recently and we're playing well, so I'm guessing it'll be in the teens," added Tampa head coach Rory Whipple. "It'll be tough to keep them to single digits, but we're certainly going to try."

As you'd expect in a regional final, both teams are playing excellent lacrosse. Limestone has won 13 straight and routed Queens in the quarterfinals while Tampa has rattled off five in a row, including a convincing win over last year's national runner-up, Mercyhurst, last weekend.

The first meeting didn't disappoint, but now each team will be playing with a key cog that was missing on March 22. The Saints are now with the services of sophomore middie Reid Reinholdt, who missed the first 11 games of the season with an injury and is still finding himself. Reinholdt is always a dangerous weapon and will certainly gain Tampa's attention.

"We've just seen him on film, but he gives them more depth and firepower," Whipple said of Reinholdt. "They are already pretty strong as is."

The Spartans will have junior Nick Ferreiro back on the field on Sunday, which could reshape the entire flow of the game. A triple-threat middie who can faceoff (70.8 FO%), score (10g) and create (17 assists), Ferreiro will give the Saints' outstanding draw man, Kevin Reisman (70.4 FO%), all he can handle.

"He's something else," Clarke said of Ferreiro. "He's very fast and scores a lot of goals off faceoffs. In any lacrosse game, gaining that possession is vital. He's so dangerous and it all starts there."

The Tampa offense, which is one of the most prolific in the country led by freshman Conor Whipple (48g, 41a), was handled surprisingly well by the Saints back line in the first meeting. Anchoring the Limestone defense this season has been Anthony Starnino, and he made an impact in the initial contest, dishing out an assist, grabbing three ground balls and amassing an astounding eight caused turnovers.

"You just don't go on him," Whipple said. "That's something we have to take into consideration and move the ball."

So if this rematch has more scoring in the first meeting as Clarke suspects, who does that favor? The amount of goals isn't relevant because it still only takes one more than the opposition to advance. So whether it's 8-7 or 18-17, it'll boil down to the details on each possession. The team that can handle those little aspects of the game the best will win, and that's typically the team that has been there before.

For all of the success Tampa has had this year, this is a new experience for them. The Spartans unquestionably have the talent to beat the Saints, but will they have the poise on the road to actually pull it off? I think that's the difference.

Limestone, 12-10.

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