Army men’s lacrosse co-captain Andrew Kelly expected Colgate’s best Saturday.
That’s what the Black Knights have received from the opposition all season on their quest to remain at the top of the Patriot League. Colgate was Army’s last hurdle before three difficult opponents over the next three weeks and a conference tournament to determine an automatic entry into the NCAA play.
Kelly and his teammates knew that they first had to dispose of the pesky Raiders, who entered the game with a deceiving 1-6 (1-3 league) record and a chip on their shoulders that they were not ready to toss the towel in on the season quite yet. A home victory over No. 7 Army would go a long way to changing Colgate’s fortunes this year.
Army, as a whole, was well aware that the Raiders had played everyone tough so far this season including knocking off Navy, 17-6 in mid-March for their only victory and were still in contention for a spot in the six-team Patriot League tournament in early May.
So, it was no surprise to Kelly or anyone dressed in black jerseys on Saturday that Colgate would play like a team on a mission and that desire, determination and drive almost turned Army’s magical season on its collective ear. But, in the end, it was another impressive defensive performance and a freshman stepping up in the clutch that helped Army beat the Raiders 10-9 to go 9-1 on the season and 6-0 in the Patriot League.
“Our coaches have done an excellent job of explaining to us all season that the next game we play is the most important game of the year simply because it is the next game,” said Kelly, a senior midfielder from Charlotte, N.C. “We knew that Colgate wanted this game and we knew that they were going to throw everything they had at us to get a win. Honestly, we went into the game respecting them for their desire and they did not disappoint.”
This was not a typical victory for Army, at least by this year’s standards. The Black Knights only held the lead for a total of less than six minutes and were ahead in the contest just three times – each time by only one goal.
Trailing 6-4 early in the second half, Army scored three straight goals to take a 7-6 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter. The two squads traded scores throughout the rest of the game until Army freshman Gunnar Fellows scored his third goal on an extra-man situation with 3:48 left in the fourth quarter, to give the Black Knights the 10-9 lead.
“I think we are happy to be on the bus and leaving town with a victory,” said a relieved Army coach Joe Alberici. “We discussed the fact that we could lose any game with our players ad nauseam and how we have to be prepared for each opponent. The bottom line is that Colgate was desperate to get a win that would help them reach the Patriot League championship and despite their record, they are a very good team. They dismantled Navy a few weeks ago and we knew going in that they were going to give us a great game.”
It would not be hard to surmise that Army players were collectively looking beyond Colgate to the next three weeks, essentially a make-or-break schedule that will determine whether the Black Knights continue play in the postseason beyond the Patriot League tournament. Next Saturday, Army faces Cornell, currently ranked fifth in the nation, at Michie Stadium, starting at noon. The following week, the Black Knights visit Annapolis in their annual grudge match with a good, if inconsistent, Navy squad. That is followed by a home game against Boston University, currently second behind Army in the Patriot League standing, the next weekend. After that comes the league tournament and, to the winner, the automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.
But, it could also be that Colgate, which has now lost four in a row to Army, played an impressive game, especially on defense.
“They really did a great job against us defensively and kept us off balance throughout the entire game,” Alberici said. “And, their goalie (sophomore Matt Lacombe) made four or more impressive stops on balls that should have gone into the net.”
Lacombe finished with 14 saves, stopping an impressive 58% of the Black Knights’ shots.
Army’s defense rose to the occasion too. Once again, for the seventh time this season, the defense led by AJ Pilate and John Sullivan held the opposition to under double-digit goals. Goalie Matt Chess, starting for the second straight time after starter Knox Dent went down with an injury in the Loyola game, had 10 saves and stopped 53% of Colgate’s shots on goal.
“I was very impressed with the effort of our defense today,” Alberici added. “Matt Chess did a
fine job in the goal for us, as well.”
Army’s freshman class stepped up again, accounting for six of the 10 goals with Evan Plunkett, Cal Lambert and Dawson Clark each scoring to add to Fellows’ hat trick.
Kelly said the tough tussle with Colgate should help the Black Knights prepare for Cornell, which
lost its first game of the year to Harvard Saturday.
“I think that even though we were frustrated with how the game was going with Colgate, we stuck to our game plan, trusted each other and played hard for each other,” he said. “This was not the game we expected but it showed our resilience and, in the end, it was good for us.
“The way we got this win will give us more confidence, but also make us a bit more humble. It puts things in perspective and shows that there are still things we need to do to keep improving. We have improved each week, but plateaued against Colgate. After losing to Harvard, Cornell is going to be very angry next week and we are going to have to play our best to beat them.”