May 18, 2011

Coyne's Picks: It Looks Like Elephants, Tigers, Mustangs and Sea Gulls in the Semis

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Chris DeLuca is the only "star" on the Cortland roster, but people were saying the same thing last year about D.J. Hessler and Tufts when they pulled off the upset. Can the Red Dragons flip the script on the Jumbos? Jac Coyne doesn't think so.

© Darl Zehr

Amherst at RIT, 4 p.m.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Me? I see a handsome devil with a knack for incorrectly picking games. But I digress. When Jake Coon and Jon Thompson look at the teams they face Wednesday, it's almost like a reflection.

"Looking at their roster and our roster, it's like looking at the same roster in two different colors," said Thompson, Amherst's head coach. "They play fast and play the subbing game, and we do try to do that. They get scrappy goals; we get scrappy goals. They've got three great attackmen; we've got three great attackmen. They've got a good goalie; we've got a good goalie. They're 50 percent from the faceoff X; we're 50 percent."

"I agree with Jon," said Coon, RIT's skipper. "You start at the attack end and it's almost like we're clones. They have a big righty attackman who can get himself to the cage, and so do we with Kelso Davis. They have an off-ball guy who catches everything and finishes, and so do we in Tyler Russell. Their third attackman is quick and shifty with field sense and can score, and Iric Bressler does that for us. I think we're very similar. It's kind of scary."

But scary for whom?

"They didn't get to be the No. 1 seed by accident, that's for sure," Thompson said.

Excellent point, and that's why it will be nearly impossible to pick against RIT in this game. At 18-0 and playing at home, the Tigers have a lot going for them. In the other column, however, is the near-miss against Denison.

"We probably should have lost the game in the end," admitted Coon about the 13-12 overtime victory against the Big Red when Denison had one shot saved by Robert Tonnessen and another that hit the post before Davis won it.

Still, the Tigers did win it, and they received their wake-up call without being eliminated. That should prove advantageous. RIT will win this game. Since I've already picked against the Lord Jeffs twice already and have an 0-2 record to show for it, Thompson is nodding somewhere. Tigers, 9-8, in triple overtime on an MJ Kiekebelt end-to-end rush.

Cortland at Tufts, 4 p.m.

Revenge is a powerful motivating tool, and it's an emotion that will certainly be simmering on the Cortland team bus during the six-hour bus ride from CNY to Medford. Tufts is well aware that the Red Dragons will be in a message-sending mood when they arrive.

"I think they are going to be a hell of a lot more angry than they were last year, and they were pretty angry last year," said Tufts coach Mike Daly.

Cortland head coach Steve Beville is aware of it, too, but he's not going to let the revenge factor completely control his team's mission.

"You try to be real careful about that being your focal point," Beville said. "We're certainly focusing on this year's Tufts team, as opposed to what happened last year, but obviously it's going to be in the back of your mind that there is some extra motivation there. They are the team that knocked us out of the running last year. Of course it's natural to have that feeling."

The matchup that will draw the most attention is the shut-down Cortland defense against the devastating Tufts offense. The Jumbos are scoring nearly 13 goals per game in the toughest defensive league in the country, while the Dragons are letting in a shade over four goals against a stiff non-conference slate.

On the other end of the field, there is the reconstructed Tufts defense that has performed very well this year despite missing pieces via both graduation and injury. It faces a Cortland offense that is devoid of any star outside of midfielder Chris DeLuca, but boasts great balance.

With a game that appears to be this close, you have to look at the home field advantage. It'll be the Jumbos sleeping in their own beds. Will it make a difference?

"I'm not quite sure," Daly said. "The 18-to-22-year-old is an elusive animal. We're still always trying to figure out the best buttons to push with our guys. Down at Stevenson, we were as focused and ready as possible. Up at Bowdoin, we weren't. Who knows? We need to keep striving and working hard and hope to heck that Patton Watkins shows up."

"It will be different for us to be an underdog going into that game," said Beville, who has become accustomed to hosting these types of contests over the past five years.

Last year, it was Tufts traveling to the defending national champions' field as the underdog and pulling the upset. Now, it is the Red Dragons' chance to accomplish the same feat. I didn't think Tufts would be able to do it (and was wrong), and I don't think Cortland will either. Time will tell if I can get to .500 on these types of picks. Tufts, 11-9.

Roanoke at Stevenson, 4 p.m.

Roanoke played Stevenson in the regular season last year and lost, 18-9. In the rematch in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, it took overtime for the Mustangs to beat the Maroons. This year, Stevenson won the first meeting, 16-6. What is in store in for this postseason?

"I take a lot of pride in having our team be better in May than we were in February like most coaches do, and I think that has been a good trademark of our team," said 'Noke head coach Bill Pilat. "The kids are learning how we play and our style, and also finding out who we are. In the early going, we try a lot of different combinations and we try to find the best players and zero in on things so we're better the second time around. Of course, it's a tall order to play a team like Stevenson with the power they have all over the field, but I'm hoping we can do better than the regular season."

Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene has been watching enough recent film to know that he's going to see a different version of the Maroons on Wednesday.

"They made a lot of changes from the regular season from when we played them in the tournament," Cantabene said. "They are playing a lot of different midfielders and a lot of guys at different positions. They are starting one goalie now, and before they were switching goalies. They are a lot of different. That's what happens during the course of the year; you get a little bit better."

The decision to move from a platoon to Charles Pease at the goalie position has been a big factor in the Maroons' success. Not that they didn't have success with the platoon, but now they have their guy in Pease.

"He was just playing a little more consistent," Pilat said. "He's really good out of the net and on ground balls, giving us a chance to get the ball to our offense. He really stepped up there."

Pease is just a piece of the puzzle, but it'll take a comprehensive game from Roanoke, especially in defending the Mustangs' transition game, to flip the result from March. As such, don't expect Stevenson to make any drastic changes heading into this contest.

"I don't think you make a lot of changes with the short turnaround, but we're going to watch the film and see what we did that was successful and what we could have done to be successful," Cantabene said. "There will be some tweaks defensively with the changes in their lineup. You can't do a lot, and at this time of year, and you don't want to change a lot. Hopefully you can just execute and be a little more mentally tougher."

I actually don't see mental toughness being that much of a factor. Rather, the difference will be Stevenson's defense, which I see handling the Roanoke offense better than the Maroons will do with the Mustang attack. This game will be closer than the first meeting, and could be a thriller if Justin Tuma puts on his Superman cape, but I've got the 'Stangs, 14-12.

Dickinson at Salisbury, 7:30 p.m.

The last time Dickinson head coach Dave Webster faced off with Salisbury and Jim Berkman, it was in the late '90s and Webster was still the coach at Marymount (Va.), which was in the same conference as the Sea Gulls. It's been a while since the two coaches have squared off, but the Red Devils' coach sees familiar things.

"There are some differences, certainly, but the key things remain the same," Webster said. "They play hard and are physical and aggressive. They play lacrosse the right way; that has been constant. I think good coaches like Jim have a certain style of play that they maintain, but make subtle changes. They know the way they want to play, and are good at recruiting and developing those players to fit their style."

When you play in as many marquee games as Salisbury, your game tapes tend to get circulated. When Berkman got his hands on Dickinson's film, he found out he's in for a battle on Wednesday.

"He's got good athletes," Berkman said. "Defensively, they are real solid. They play really solid defense and they have good individual defenders. They have athletes in the midfield that can get to the goal and three good attackmen that are good all-around players. They are a talented team. They've beaten a lot of good teams this year, and they've done it different ways."

Webster has found the game film on Salisbury to be eerily similar to what he remembers from the last millennium.

"They don't give you anything," he said. "You have to earn everything. They are athletic, skilled and deep. That's the reason why they have the tradition that they do. It's a great opportunity to play them, and we're excited about it."

Webster talked about tradition, and it's a key factor in picking this contest. This is a pedigree game. We're reaching the pinnacle of what the Red Devils have ever achieved and, at the same time, we've come to the jumping off point from which the Gulls usually make their run. Unless you've got a team ready for the jump, this is a divergent point. I'm not sure Dickinson is ready for that leap. Salisbury, 9-8.

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