West Point – Forget, for a moment, that the Army men’s lacrosse team lost its second one-goal game in 13 days because of a late tally.
Forget that the regular season Patriot League title was lost when Boston University’s Tom Niedringhaus scored that goal with less than three minutes left in the contest to give the Terriers a 12-11 victory over the Black Knights on a misty and foggy Friday night at Michie Stadium.
And, most importantly, forget that BU’s victory moved next week’s semifinals and championship game out of West Point and onto their Boston campus as league champs.
Because, barring a significant upset in either or both semifinal contests, this was just a dress rehearsal for next Sunday’s championship game of the Patriot League tournament that starts with first round action on Tuesday. BU and Army, both 10-3 overall and 7-1 in league play, are clearly the class of the Patriot League this season and both believe they deserve a spot in next month’s NCAA tournament regardless if they win the league’s post-season tournament.
But there is a big concern by fans of these teams that even if they both reach the championship game next weekend, the loser will not receive an at-large spot into the 18-team NCAA tournament. The winner of the league tourney earns a coveted automatic qualifier spot for the national championship, which starts the following week.
So now it is back to the practice field for this Army squad and trying to figure out what went wrong on Friday and how to fix it before the next game on Friday night versus the winner of the first-round game between Lehigh and Lafayette.
The bottom line is that Army was beaten by a more aggressive, faster and more feisty BU squad that outshot the Black Knights 50-34 for the game and, more importantly, by 32-15, in the second half.
Frankly, it could have been worse if not for the superior goaltending of senior Knox Dent and the strong play of sophomore faceoff specialist sophomore Will Coletti at the X. Dent, playing in front of his parents on Senior Day, stopped 17 shots and looked, in the words of Army coach Joe Alberici, more like a hockey goalie “blocking shots and then stopping the rebound shot” than a lacrosse goalie. Coletti won 17 of 27 faceoffs and collected 13 ground balls, setting the single-season Army ground ball record along the way.
While Alberici and all of his players are keenly focused on Army’s next game, it is also very clear that Army wants another shot at BU to show themselves and the college lacrosse world that they can play better.
“We knew it was going to be competitive and their offense is highly skilled,” said Dent. “We definitely wanted to limit their man up and, unfortunately, we made some mistakes and got some penalties that put us in bad positions and their man-up just executed. We had a lot of mistakes on our part that we have to clean up and we have to look forward to the next game. The next game is the most important one right now.”
Added Coletti: “Over these last two years, we have a rivalry with them and they are a great team. Hopefully, we handle business on Friday and see them again.”
While Army looked like the dominant team in the first half, BU came out of the locker room to start the second half like a team on a mission. Using speed and a tenacious defense, the Terriers defense continuously harassed Army, causing 11 second-half turnovers and preventing a number of clean clears. More importantly, Army committed six penalties and BU converted three into man-up scores. BU had just one man-up penalty on the day. And while Army won the overall groundball battle, BU dominated in the second half, 27-17.
“It was disappointing,” said Alberici. “I thought we played a really good first half although we did not quite extend the lead as I thought we should. It was 23-5 in our favor on groundballs in the first half. I thought we were taking it to them. In the second half, they flipped it on us, we got out groundballed in the second half. Maybe it was some aggressive clearing decisions coupled with some fouls. We ended up playing a lot of defense in the second half.
“Knox was fantastic in the middle of the field. He kept us in it and gave us the opportunity in the end. Had a couple of great chance but came up a little short in the end.”
But, as every player and coach at Army has said all year, the next game is the most important and that is the semifinal contest on Friday. “Our complete focus is on Friday and the Lehigh-Lafayette winner,” Alberici said. “We know we have to earn the right to play on Sunday.”