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Army men’s lax rolls past Navy, clinches first-round Patriot bye

Reese Burek and Army’s upper classmen were simply not going to let Navy upset the Black Knights a third straight year in their annual men’s lacrosse tussle at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis Saturday.

In fact, this time, Army left little doubt about the outcome of the contest. The Black Knights came flying out of the box, taking a 3-0 lead early in the game and a solid 9-1 advantage into halftime on the way to a decisive 11-6 victory over its rival.

Saturday’s crucial win guarantees Army, now 10-2 overall and 7-0 in the Patriot League, a first-round bye and semifinal-round home game in the league’s postseason tournament, which starts on May 2.

“We knew just how important this game was for a lot of reasons,” said Burek, a junior from Rochester, N.Y. Burek scored four goals and now leads Army with 26 tallies on the year. “We always understand how big the game is from a rivalry aspect and also knew what role it plays in the Patriot League standings this year as well.

“But we also remember the overtime loss to Navy last year and how much it stung to lose that game. So, for me, personally, and for the senior class to get a win over Navy for the first time, and for the overall team, this victory was sweet revenge for that loss a year ago.”

With the victory over Navy, No. 9-ranked Army faces Boston University (9-3 overall; 6-1 in the Patriot League) on Friday night at Michie Stadium to determine the league’s regular-season champion and, with that, home field advantage throughout the conference’s playoffs.

As importantly, Army is trying to impress the NCAA lacrosse committee that it should receive an at-large bid to the 18-team tournament just in case the Black Knights do not win the Patriot League tournament and receive its automatic bid. And, that means that every victory is important, particularly one against Navy.

Interestingly, entering Saturday’s game, Army was pretty much in the same spot as it was last year in terms of the NCAA tournament. In 2022, Army entered the Navy game, played at West Point, with just one loss and with big wins over both Syracuse and Cornell. But the Middies pulled off the 12-11 overtime upset that must have played a role in the committee’s decision not to give the Black Knights an NCAA at-large bid after they lost to Boston University in the Patriot League championship game.

The year before Navy beat a favored Army team, 9-4, in Annapolis. Army’s last win versus Navy was a 9-8 victory in 2019.

“I really felt like this was one of our best performances, on both sides of the field, this year,” said Army coach Joe Alberici. “We handled the ball very well, took crisp shots throughout the game and scoring goals on our first three possessions was huge. I was impressed with how poised out guys played all game long. There was some great communication out there and when Navy made a push in the second half, there was no panic. I was very happy with that and it showed that our leaders on the field stepped up.”

Joining Burek with multiple goals were junior Bailey O’Connor and freshman Evan Plunkett, with two scores each. But even Burek gives much of the credit to Army’s success in this game and all year long to faceoff specialist Will Coletti and the “hungry dogs” on defense, who have given up just 97 goals this season, second lowest in the NCAA Division I.

“Our defense is absolutely phenomenal,” Burek said. “They work as a tight-knit team that stop shots and does not let the ball go into the net. Plus, (goalie) Knox Dent was unbelievable out there again today and our goalies have done a great job all season. They all have proved many wrong about our defense being a concern this year. I give a lot of credit to our defense every game for what they do.”

Alberici echoed those statements, again giving much credit to sophomore whiz kid AJ Pilate as well as junior short-stick midfielder Joey Stillings and, of course, Dent, who had 10 saves, for shutting Navy down. “Knox did great in the goal and AJ was just out of this world again today,” he noted. “Actually, you can go across the board, and guy after guy, just played outstanding for us, including Stillings, who neutralized his assignment all game.”

Now, it’s a short week of practice and the game against BU on Friday night. “We are confident and we know that we have to stick to what we have been doing all year long,” said Burek. “At the same time, we are well aware that BU is a very good team that has most of their players back from last year. I think that we need a good week of practice and let our work throughout the week do the talking on Friday night. We know they are very good, but we will be ready for them.”

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