March 26, 2014

Eastern Sure: Eagles Fend Off No. 12 York

from press release

Jordan Norris (above) and the Eastern defense put the clamps on York's offense, allowing the Eagles to post a 10-9 victory on Wednesday afternoon. (Kevin P. Tucker)

ST. DAVID'S, Pa. - Junior faceoff specialist Joe Palo won 17-of-23 faceoffs and helped Eastern University Men's Lacrosse to an important 10-9 home win over the No. 12 York College Spartans. While Palo's work at the X was critical in the game, the most significant face-off was the one that never happened.

The visiting Spartans led 2-1 at the end of the first period, but when the two teams took the field for the second quarter, the officials asked the respective faceoff men for their sticks. One official made measurements and gave Palo his stick back quickly. The other took measurements of the York player's stick. He called a second official over for more measurements and threw a flag for a three minute illegal crosse penalty. By the time the Spartans returned to even strength, the Eastern extra man unit had scored five times.

Dave Darling, who had scored late in the first to cut an early York in half, tied the game only ten seconds into the period. Going against a new opponent with only one wing player, Palo won the next draw and Darling completed his hat trick off a Grant Ferguson pass only 17 seconds later.

Still up a man, Darling found Eric Waibel for a 4-2 lead. The fifth goal took a little longer to get, but it came before the midway point of the three minute penalty as Darling located a cutting Andy Jameson for the senior midfielder's 7th of the year.

York won the ensuing faceoff on a violation, but the Eagles were able to force a turnover and keep the pressure on with the extra man. The York defense held its ground, but a slashing penalty extended the extra man chance. Darling picked up his sixth point of the day with another assist. Grant Ferguson finished from the left side of the cage.

Once back at even strength, the Spartans cut into the Eastern lead with an unassisted goal from Tyler Hutson.

York, however, was unable to gain momentum from the goal as the Eagles forced a turnover deep in the York end and again went up a man on a penalty. For the year, Eastern's man up unit had converted 52 percent of its chances. With six goals in four opportunities, it was much better than that today. Ferguson ripped home his second of the day to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead at the midway point of the quarter.

The Spartans put the Eagles under pressure, but the Eastern unit held its ground and Ryan Mitchell popped a ball free and found Shawn Farmer for a rare transition chance. Farmer drew the York defense away from the goal and fed Waibel for a low finish with less than three minutes remaining in the half. The goal was the 16th of the year for Waibel.

The Eagles failed their final man up chance of the period after a delay of game penalty for a third faceoff violation, and York put together a final possession. After a ball out of bounds in the corner, the Spartans ran a quick play to get Hutson, their junior All-American a look at goal. Hutson released the final shot at the buzzer and Pat Groschan made the initial save. The ball trickled across the goal line, but the officials determined that the period ended before the ball crossed the line.

With the extended man up chances, the Eagles fired 28 shots and won 10-of-13 faceoffs in the first half. York goalies made eight saves. Groschan stopped five balls for the Eagles.

The visitors scored 50 seconds into the second half, but Dez Decker answered with an even strength goal with a strong low shot from distance to put the Eagles up 9-4.

The Eagles won the scramble on the next faceoff but quickly turned it over, and the Spartans began to assert control on the game. Over the next 25 minutes, York put tons of pressure on the Eastern defense and limited the Eagle offense with an aggressive and effective ride. Eastern failed five clears in the third period and the lead had shrunk to 9-6 by the start of the fourth.

After York scored a minute into the fourth, the Eagles tried to play for long possessions, but they wound up under stall warning three consecutive times. After the final stall warning, the Spartans converted a save from Caleb Abney into a Joseph Joseph goal at the other end. Seconds later, the Spartans tied the game on a beautiful quick catch and score from Andrew Gamble.

Palo again won the draw on a pushing violation and the Eagles looked to stop the bleeding. Darling found Ferguson headed toward goal and Ferguson took a push in the back and dove for the top of the crease. His shot from close range went in as the flag went in the air and the Eagles regained the 10-9 lead.

"That was a huge goal," Eastern head coach Kevin Wallace said after the game. "That was a great response to adversity and this is a really great win for our program." Ferguson's 30th of the year put the Eagles up 10-9, but there was still work to be done. Eastern had to kill off nearly three minutes of clock time and stop a very dangerous York attack in its final possession. The Eagles used a pair of timeouts and nearly all the ground in their own half of the field to burn clock, but York still had a final chance with 40 seconds left. After an extended defensive possession, Tyler Gehlhaus picked off a pass headed for a cutting York player at the crease to end the game.

"I was very pleased with our defense," Wallace concluded. "They [York] are so athletic and talented we had to mix things up and I thought we did really well playing together and being on the same page for the most part. [Mark] Cyron was great today, and I think Gehlhaus did a really good job against Hutson. We have stuff to work on, and we will have to learn to adjust in our clears when a team does that to us, but it is a great win."

The victory snaps a three game skid for the Eagles. More importantly, it gives the team an important resume win for Pool B consideration. Wallace conceded that while today was not a must win game for the Eagles, a loss today would have had them looking for a lot of other results to go correctly. While the Eagles still need to win the Freedom Conference consideration, it is likely that today's win, coupled with important Pool B wins over Colorado College, Greensboro, and Ferrum will be enough to give Eastern one of the Pool B slots.

York's other two losses on the year came to the defending National Champion Stevenson Mustangs and against an unbeaten Salisbury team this past weekend.

Groschan made 10 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Eagles. Caleb Abney stopped 14 shots for the Spartans.

The Eagles begin Freedom Conference play at King's College next Wednesday night.

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