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Army men’s lax ousted by Boston U in Patriot semis

Photo by Mark Wellman

Slowly, Army men’s lacrosse players emerged from the team’s locker room, just minutes after a goal by Boston University senior Jake Cates dealt the Black Knights a dramatic and stunning 11-10 overtime loss in the Patriot League semifinals at Michie Stadium Friday. 

Their look was pretty much the same, a state of shock that their team which was ranked first in the nation for two weeks midway through the season, will now probably not hear its name called during Sunday’s nationally-televised selection show for the NCAA tournament that starts next week. 

In a classic slugfest between two Patriot League heavyweights, the combination of the Black Knights’ much-heralded defense, strong goaltending by sophomore Sean Byrne (16 saves) and an offense that produced 46 shots on goal seemed to give Army the upper hand in the contest to decide who would move forward to Sunday’s championship game. 

But, it all fell apart in the last 80 seconds of regulation. Army took a 9-8 lead on sophomore Evan Plunkett’s goal with just 2:04 left in fourth quarter, but BU scored two unassisted goals – one off a faceoff – in just 13 seconds to take 10-9 lead with 1:06 left in regulation. 

Will Coletti, who was named the Patriot League’s faceoff specialist of the season on Monday, but won just nine of 23 at the X against BU, seemed to redeem himself by grabbing the next faceoff and scoring a game-tying goal, using up just three seconds of clock.

But disaster then struck the Black Knights twice. First, BU was awarded the ball on the ensuing faceoff on a violation and then junior AJ Pilate, who was just named the league’s Best Defensive Player, was called for interference in front of the Army goal with just 10 seconds left in regulation. 

BU played out regulation. Instead of a faceoff to begin overtime, the 30-second penalty gave the ball to BU. Just 23 seconds later, Cates pounded a shot into the net from about 12 yards out to give the Terriers the victory and a matchup with Lehigh – which beat Navy 12-8 in the other semifinal – Sunday. The winner of that game receives the Patriot League’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. 

“A few plays that were made right off the faceoff in transition,” said Army coach Joe Alberici about the final seconds of regulation. “Their seniors, the guys doing it for five years for them, made some great plays. They kept answering and we got into a position where we had to answer, which we did and then, unfortunately, the last draw we did not get and they got possession and it was a clear foul. In a man-down, anything goes.” 

For Army, the loss to BU was the fourth straight over three seasons and probably puts an end to a campaign that started incredibly well and had many Black Knight fans thinking of lacrosse grandeur. Army started the year with seven straight wins, including big victories at now No. 3-ranked Syracuse from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten’s Rutgers. 

In fact, in early March Army reached the in-season pinnacle of college lacrosse, ranked first in the country for two weeks by several major national polls. 

But these very same Terriers put an end to the winning streak in late March with a lopsided 14-9 victory over the Black Knights in Boston. After Army beat host North Carolina, another blue-blooded lacrosse program from the ACC, the Black Knights fell to Colgate, before rattling off three victories to finish the regular season with an 11-2 record and first place in the Patriot League. 

Now all the Black Knights can hopeful to continue their season is an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and most experts say that the math does not add up. Still, one can expect that the team and its coaches will be watching the selection show on Sunday evening to see if a miracle can take place. 

On the semifinal game, the two squads were locked in a defensive struggle for nearly all of the game. With sophomore Sean Byrne stopping 16 shots in the game and the Black Knight defense, led by junior Pilate and sophomore John Sullivan, causing havoc all over the field, Army took a 5-3 lead into halftime. 

But the second half saw the Black Knights squander some good scoring chances and BU sneak in a few goals. By early in the fourth quarter, the teams were tied at 7-7 and neither squad was able to go ahead by more than one goal for the rest of the contest. 

“(Boston University) came off a three-overtime game on Tuesday (an 18-17 win over Colgate in the first round of the tournament) and they showed a lot of heart and really competed hard on the ground balls and made one more play than us at the end there,” Alberici said.

Army’s shot accuracy wasn’t up to its standards. Of the Black Knights’ 46 shots, 21 missed the goal. Jackson Eicher, who led the team with 11 shots, scored just twice. Evan Plunkett, the league’s offensive player of the year. was held to one goal on five shots.

“Our guys played really hard. I just felt there was a few opportunities to capitalize to stretch the game from a two-goal lead to three or four goal lead where, given their circumstances playing earlier in the week, might had been difficult for them to dig out of. Just did not happen that way. There was excellent goaltending on both sides throughout. There was nothing but good balls that went in.”

Besides the two wins this season over Army, BU beat the Black Knights in the last game of the regular season last year. But the Terriers fell to Loyola in the semifinals of the Patriot League and Army beat Loyola in the championship game to qualify for the NCAA tournament. BU also defeated Army in the championship game of the 2022 Patriot League tournament. 

Alberici had great things to say about his senior class, which includes scorers Jacob Morin, Reese Burek and Ryan Sposito as well as Ned Lynch on defense.

“They were a great group to work with,” he said. “I am particularly indebted to the seniors, not only the things they did on the field, but how they elevated the culture in the locker room and in the classroom. I am really proud of this group. This one is going to hurt for a long time, but when it comes out in the wash it won’t diminish all the great things they brought to the Army lacrosse family.”

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Tony brutean

    May 6, 2024 at 10:37 AM

    Great article. Army probably needs to schmooze the selection committee more…as we know, it’s not just w/l’s, especially the at larges. Army doesn’t get picked unless they win tourney. Don’t want to imagine how they feel watching Lehigh in tourney after Army smoked them in season .

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