March 21, 2009

Bombers Ball: Ithaca Upends Cortland Again

by Brian Delaney | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Ithaca goalie David Gal makes one of his career-high 22 saves Saturday in No. 5 Ithaca's 11-8 win over No. 2 Cortland.
© Greg Wall

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- In a departure from recent Ithaca College men's lacrosse teams, where run-and-gun offense and a deep corps of dodging attackmen received the lion's share of attention, senior All-American defenseman Neth Wiedemann figured last spring's graduation would change that this year.

"We think our strength this year is really defense and defensive middies," he said.

And that goalie wasn't bad, either.

"He just played out of his mind today," Wiedemann added.

Sophomore keeper David Gal made a career-high 22 saves, and the fifth-ranked Bombers' defense dominated despite a lopsided number of possessions in Cortland's favor, spearheading a physical 11-8 victory Saturday over the second-ranked Red Dragons at SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.

The top-five rankings only stoked the flames surrounding this annual rivalry game. The two schools, separated by 25 miles on Route 13 in upstate New York, met in the NCAA Division III final four last spring. Cortland laid the wood to Ithaca, 16-5, before losing to Salisbury in Foxboro, Mass.

But for the second straight year, Ithaca claimed the regular season showdown.

Bombers coach Jeff Long adjusted his defense by putting close defensemen Wiedemann and Michael Serron on Cortland's top two midfielders, and the Red Dragons never got untracked.

Despite a 55-27 shot advantage, very few of Cortland's scoring chances came on or around the doorstep.

"What we tried to do was put our best athletes on their best athletes and see how it worked out," Long said. "The defense did a really good job of funneling the shooters to where they didn't want to shoot from, and that makes it a little easier for the goalie, but [Gal] had an All-American game today."

The momentum swung completely in Ithaca's favor late in the third quarter.

Faced with a 4-0 deficit in the first quarter, Cortland steadily worked itself back in the game and pulled to within 6-5 on a goal by junior Brandon Misiaszek.

The Bombers (6-0) answered with a Kevin Bush goal less than a minute later, a tally that sparked a three-goal outburst over 60 seconds. Matt Ruhnke, hounded by injuries much of the last two years, popped and picked up the ensuing faceoff and unleashed a 12-yard rocket into the top right corner, and moments later Nic Heckman whipped home a shot off the dodge for a 9-5 lead.

The ninth goal was backed up by one of Gal's better saves, a quick trap of a Conor Duffy offering low from eight yards out. The sophomore swallowed up a Joey Morgan rip with 10 seconds left to polish off a seven-save third quarter.

"We were ready for [Cortland's comeback]," Gal said. "We knew they were going to come back, we knew it was going to be a battle and we were ready for it."

Ithaca's lead grew to 11-6 late in the fourth quarter when Alec Seifert converted a feed from Matt Cutter. Cortland (4-1) scored two goals in the final two minutes, but they mattered little.

"Ithaca's game plan was outstanding," Cortland coach Steve Beville said. "The defense played very well and, of course, their goalie played his career game today. Put those things together and obviously Ithaca outplayed us and deserved to win."

Cortland's ride had given Ithaca fits in recent games, but Ithaca had an answer Saturday in sophomore Mike Silipo. His strength and speed helped the Bombers convert 23 of 26 clear attempts, despite a middle third of the field that for most of the day resembled sharks feasting on chum.

"He's a one-man clear sometimes," Gal said.

Cortland freshman Greg Wright scored three goals and added an assist, and junior Jay DiStefano pitched in a goal and two assists. For Ithaca, freshman Tom Mongelli scored three goals, one of six players to produce multi-point efforts.

Now Ithaca can prepare for a difficult Empire 8 schedule with a top-five win tucked away in its back pocket.

"For these kids, the confidence level, the belief level, it's just a huge win," Long said. "And just playing Cortland, they bring it every game. They've been in the championship game the last couple years, and they have one of the best programs in the country. So just to come on this field and feel good about ourselves walking out is just worth its weight in gold."    

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