DANBURY, Conn. - Junior goalie Kyle Wood (Hyde Park, N.Y.) stopped nearly everything and the Western Connecticut State University offense was nearly unstoppable. A great combination on Saturday afternoon as the Colonials captured the Little East Conference Men's Lacrosse Championship with a convincing 18-7 victory over Plymouth State University at WestConn Athletic Complex before 500 fans.
With the LEC crown comes an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III National Championships that begin on Wednesday, May 7. PSU, which had won five straight games and seven of its last eight, will have to settle for a likely ECAC New England Tournament berth when the field is announced Monday.
Senior midfielder Dennis Skarda (Danbury, Conn.), who had three goals and four assists against the Panthers, was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player. It was his goal on Thursday afternoon, in the closing seconds, that sent the game into overtime against Keene State College. The Colonials went on to defeat the Owls, 14-13, on A. J. Barbieri's maker 2:19 into the extra time to send them to today's title match.
The Colonials edged Plymouth State, 9-7, back on March 29 at The WAC. Since then, they have won nine of 12 games and ran their winning streak to four games today.
"We are a much different team than we were the last time we played Plymouth State," said Skarda. "Everything has come together for us over the past four or five games. We knew we would be tough to beat today and it was a team effort across the board."
On Saturday, the contest appeared to be just as tightly matched through the first 15 minutes of play. WestConn jumped out to a 2-0 lead following a goal from Adam Lanehart (Redding, Conn.) at 10:36. Plymouth State rallied right back and evened the score at 2-2 when Matt Johansmeyer (Shelburne Falls, Mass.) registered his eighth goal of the season.
As the first quarter wound down, Skarda connected with Lanehart and the Colonials took a 4-2 lead into the second stanza. That assist gave Skarda 200 points for his career, but he was far from done on the day. The Danbury High School graduate went on to score three goals of his own and assist on three others before the final buzzer sounded.
WestConn, 13-6, pulled away from the Panthers during the second quarter, outscoring the visitors, 7-1 during the period for an 11-3 lead at intermission. During the quarter, Tom Begley (East Islip, N.Y.) scored three goals and was one of four Colonials' players to have at least three goals.
Plymouth State came out of the locker room after intermission and drew within seven goals, 11-4 in the first 13 seconds, but WestConn would not allow it to get any closer, scoring three unanswered goals over the next 10 minutes. Skarda netted his 13th and 14th goals during that stretch, but the Colonials weren't ready to celebrate, yet. It wasn't until they went into the final stanza with a 14-5 lead before they felt comfortable.
Lanehart continued his blistering goal-scoring pace with a game-high four goals on Saturday. He goes into the NCAA Tournament ranked in the Top 25 nationally with 56 goals.
"After coming off Thursday's win over Keene State and putting up 14 goals against them, we were fired up today," stated Lanehart.
Lanehart had a lot of praise for Skarda and Woods after the game.
"It's been a pleasure to play with Dennis the past two years, I'm going to miss him next year," added the Joel Barlow graduate. "He seems to know where I am on the field at all times. When Kyle is on, we are on, and today, he and the defense were fantastic," added Lanehart.
Wood made 13 saves on the afternoon, the bulk of those coming in the first 30 minutes and almost single-handedly kept the potent Plymouth State offense at bay.
The Panthers' top two scorers, senior Adam Krinsky (Concord, N.H.) and sophomore Brian Giroux (Wolfeboro Falls, N.H.) , who had 57 goals between them coming into Saturday, combined for two goals in the title game.
"Our philosophy today was to be aggressive defensively and get ahead of Plymouth," said Wood. "We were that and then some today."
Since its loss to Keene State, 14-5, back on April 12, WestConn has only one loss and the offense has put up an average of more than 13 goals and given up fewer than seven a game.
Plymouth State, which has played 16 of its 18 games on the road this season, was coming off a monumental upset in the LEC semifinals as well, upsetting top-seed Eastern Connecticut State University, 11-10 in double overtime on Thursday.
"We have been on a hot streak of late," stated fifth-year PSU head coach Andrew Brauch. "Before the game, we talked about not watching the ball, and today we got caught watching the ball. Today, WestConn was the better team and we did not bring out "A" game."
George Tsirigotis (Islip Terrace, N.Y.) also scored a hat trick for the winners. Kirk Zachary (East Islip, N.Y.) hit the back of the net twice while Barbieri, Vin Bevilacqua (Branford, Conn) and John McGrath (Wantagh, N.Y.) closed out the goal scoring for the Colonials.
Woods counterpart, freshman Billy Morgan (Winchester, Mass.) was pelted with shots all afternoon as the Colonials unloaded 53 times. Morgan made eight saves before yielding to Kevin Hayes (Beverly, Mass.) for the final 11 minutes of play. Hayes did not have to make a stop as WestConn took only two shots during his stay.
Sophomore Steve Engel (South Windsor, Conn.) , who scored the overtime game-winner in PSU's big semifinal upset win at Eastern Conn, led the Panthers attack with two goals. Five other players tallied one goal apiece.
It was the first championship of any kind for the rather young WestConn lacrosse program, which began playing at the intercollegiate level in 2004. The Colonials will find out their opponent on Sunday night when the NCAA has its Selection Show from its headquarters in Indianapolis.
(Courtesy of Western Connecticut Sports Information)
-- 30 --