May 19, 2014

MD2 Notebook: Pioneers Frustrate Another Foe

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Joe Costello scored a pair of goals to help upend regional top seed Adelphi on Sunday. Now there is just one game left to win for the underdog Pioneers. (Kevin P. Tucker)

The game was over. There were still technically eight seconds to burn off the clock, but it was over.

After the final compulsory faceoff, which occurred once LIU Post put the exclamation point on its 12-9 win over top seed Adelphi, Panthers' superb FOGO, Greg Puskuldjian, finally showed his frustration.

Having posted a sub-.500 percentage at the dot for the first time all year, mostly because of the play of LIU Post's Dom Montavani, Puskuldjian threw his hands up in disgust and walked toward the Adelphi bench as Post picked up the 13th win of the 23 total draw attempts and ran out the clock.

Make no mistake: Puskuldjian's legacy is secure. He is a lead-pipe lock to be a first team All-American when the teams are announced later today, and he will go down as one of the top draw men in Adelphi's fabled history, right next to his head coach, Gordon Purdie.

But this was LIU Post's day. And it was Montavani's day.

He was not even on the depth chart as a faceoff man when the season started, but Montavani emerged as a dominant presence at the dot thanks to assistant coach Michael Cama. A member of the last two Post national championship teams, Cama has completely altered Montavani's approach – to the point where Pioneers head coach John Jez says that 40 percent of his program's late season push can be credited to Cama.

"He breaks down things piece by piece. It's part of his life," Jez said of Cama's approach. "I'm glad he's here because I don't understand the things he talks about during the game. Our guys being successful may have worried Puskuldjian and he was over-thinking things. I don't know. Faceoff guys are strange people."

The battle at the dot was just many won by the Pioneers. While several of the big guns for Adelphi got their points, nobody went off, keeping Post from ever trailing in the contest.

"I don't know if we neutralized them, but we kept them at bay," Jez said. "Nicky Watson came back for them and had an impact. They have at least six weapons on the field at all times on offense and we tried to stay with them in some one-on-one coverages. Our guys played good, one-on-one defense and our goalie played very well again."

Pioneer goalie T.J. DiCarlo made 10 saves on the afternoon, but all of them had the feel of game-changers. He certainly won the head-to-head match-up with Adelphi backstop Aiden Bennardo, who finished with six stops.

For a story written by Joe Pantorno for, Purdie lauded DiCarlo.

"DiCarlo certainly stepped up and won the game for them," said the Adelphi coach. "He had a couple of good saves, key saves that we thought could have gone in. He was in place. He played a very, very good game."

In a vacuum, the win over Adelphi is an impressive feat. The Panthers had just one loss on the season and were, for the most part, considered the favorites to win the title. Taken in its entire context – including the fact that many invested in LIU Post, including Jez, didn't think they would make the tournament – advancing to the championship game is nearly miraculous.

It certainly reflects well on Jez, who will now be searching for his third national championship with Post when they face Limestone next Sunday. The Pioneers have no business being in Baltimore, but alas, here they come.

Jez's tendency is to deflect praise. It's a trait that he combines with a willingness to accept fault.

"We knew we had enough talent in the room, so maybe it wasn't the best coaching job," he said. "Maybe we just did a horrible job [coaching] early. I'm not sure. We had the talent in the room and you said it over the summer, there was potential to do great things. Maybe it was a glitch by us to not focus on the right things earlier. We're doing the right things now and the kids are responding to things. When things are out in front of them and it's tangible without the coaches just telling them a thousand times, they respond."

The most tangible of goals looms on the horizon for LIU Post on Sunday. Are they ready to frustrate the entirety of Division II like they did Adelphi?

Limestone Hoping to Scratch 12-Year Itch

Kyle Rhatigan (above) had three goals and three assists to lead Limestone to their second national championship game in the last three seasons. (John Strohsacker)

Speaking of faceoff jitters, it looked like it might be a long day for Limestone FOGO Kevin Reisman when the rookie draw man jumped on the first three faceoffs of the game and was predictably slow on the fourth, giving Tampa some early momentum in its upset bid.

Reisman only lost five the rest of the way, however.

One of the big storylines entering the game was the return of Tampa's outstanding faceoff man and offensive middie, Nick Ferreiro, who missed the first meeting between the two schools. Limestone had a slight advantage (8-of-15) in the first match-up, and conventional wisdom said Ferreiro's return would swing the leverage in the Spartans' favor.

Alas, the Saints finished with a 17-for-28 edge.

"A lot of credit goes to Kevin," said Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke. "He's a freshman and it was a big stage for him. Maybe we gave too much credit to [Ferreiro], but I think he's really good. We might have blown it up too much for Kevin, and he was a freshman for a little bit. All the credit to him, because he kept grinding. Our big thing today was who was going to be tougher for longer? I think Kevin was a great example. He lost the first four, but did really lose many from then on out."

Despite taking away any Tampa advantage at the dot, Limestone had its hands full. Holding a 4-1 lead late in the first quarter, the Saints saw the Spartans claw their back, helped by a Matt Bilak goal with 2.7 seconds left in the opening frame.

"That was the beginning of their run," Clarke said. "It kind of gave them some life right at the end of the quarter. That one got them stared."

Tampa would take a 6-5 lead with under two minutes in the half, but Todd Nakasuji's EMO goal tied it the half, and the game was very much in doubt. Clarke took solace in the fact that unlike the first meeting that ended up being an 8-5 grinder, this was more of a wide open affair.

"That's more the way we play," he said. "I thought we would have to get to 15 today with [Conor] Whipple and [Jake] Rooney down there and [Mike] Morris back. That's a helluva a group and their middies have really gotten better. The last time we played them, their attack was a one-headed monster, but this time I thought they would be much more dangerous in the midfield and as it turned out, they were. I think our defense did a remarkable job on their attack."

The Limestone backline was superb, holding the Spartans attack to a combined two goals. Andrew Starnino, who has been the anchor of the Saints defense all year, even ended up with more points (2) than Whipple (1), who had nearly 90 points entering the game. Bobby Calhoun (3g, 3a), Ferreiro (2g) and Bilak (2g, 1a) produced out of the midfield, but not enough to keep up with the Limestone attack, which was paced by Kyle Rhatigan (3g, 3a).

After the game, one of the areas that Clarke credited his staff with was not over-coaching his players. With all of the information Limestone had on Tampa, he could have broken down every player and tendency to the last atom, but he and his staff let the players play for the most part.

"It's something you learn," Clarke said about over-coaching, which he admits to doing in the past. "You usually do it when you have lesser talent. I haven't done it too much here."

Clarke will now lead the Saints to Baltimore for the program's second national championship appearance in the last three years. It's the eighth time Limestone has played for a title in the last 15 years, but it hasn't won a championship since 2002. It's a 12-year itch the Saints desperately want to scratch.

Getting Ready for Baltimore

Both J.B. Clarke and John Jez are no strangers to the national championship game. Clarke brought Limestone to Foxborough in 2012, losing to Dowling, 11-10, while Jez last brought the LIU Post to the title tilt in Baltimore back in 2010 for the second of his two-straight crowns.

How are they going to approach the run up to the biggest game of the season?

"You have to recognize that it's not going be the same as every week," Clarke said. "You try to keep your schedule as normal as possible, but it's going to be different. When it's time to travel, you travel. When it's time for a scouting report meeting, you have a scouting report meeting. When it's time to have practice in the big stadium, let them walk out there and ooh and aah – and we have a lot of Baltimore kids – but when I blow the whistle it's time to practice. You can't turn it on and off. I remember listening to Coach [Dom] Starsia years ago saying, 'It's our job as coaches to give these kids really good experiences.' I'm going to let the kids enjoy the whole thing, but when it's time to get to work, we're going to go to work."

"It was a battle for us to get there, and as long as we can focus all the way through, hopefully we'll be able to do what we're supposed to do," added Jez. "Keeping them focused and giving them the framework out front is definitely important to do. Give them the timeline so they aren't spooked about things. Our school does a great job with support when we make the NCAAs, and they treat us first class."

What do the coaches know about each other's team?

"Not enough," said Jez. It was a sentiment echoed by Clarke, who added, "We'll figure out who they are here before too long."

Sunday will be the second meeting in an NCAA championship game between the two schools. Limestone beat LIU Post (then C.W. Post), 10-9, in 2000 for the program's first-ever title.

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