April 24, 2008
Red Dragons stand alone at top
Heath surpasses 200 career points in 8th straight win
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland goalie Mike Robinson (6) blocks a shot in the fourth quarter against Geneseo Wednesday. The junior made six saves in 18-7 Red Dragon victory.
This was simply business as usual these days for the SUNY Cortland lacrosse team.
The Red Dragons continued their recent onslaught of opponents, senior attackmen Ryan Heath and Billy Fuchs with five-goal performances in an 18-7 conference victory over visiting Geneseo Wednesday afternoon.
But this eighth straight Cortland victory — a stretch of success in which the Red Dragons have averaged a whopping 19.8 goals per contest — was even more impressive considering both nationally-ranked teams came into the game sharing first place in the SUNY Athletic Conference standings.
“It’s what we expect,” said stellar junior defenseman Luke Lemon matter-of-factly after the third-ranked Red Dragons improved to 6-0 in SUNYAC play and 12-1 overall. Lemon, a 6-foot, 220-pound menace who arrived on campus from the Rocky Mountain locale of Colorado Springs, was at his disruptive best leading a defensive effort that held Geneseo scoreless over a 25-minute stretch when Cortland turned an early 2-1 deficit into an 8-2 lead.
“You know that we expect to go out as a team, not as individuals, and give 110 percent in every game. You have to go out there as a team and grind and grind, and that’s what we have been doing,” said Lemon.
This impressive showing came against a Geneseo squad that has enjoyed recent success against the Red Dragons, including winning the conference playoff title game a year ago at this same SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex site. So some Red Dragons were in an avenging mood heading into this rematch.
“The guys who lost to them last year had it in the back of their heads,” admitted Heath, who became the seventh player in school history to reach 200 points in a career during his big afternoon.
With three assists to go along with his handful of tallies, the captain out of Baldwinsville now has 120 goals and 86 goals in just three seasons as a Red Dragon. Heath transferred to Cortland after playing at Division I Sacred Heart in Connecticut as a freshman.
Cortland clinched the home field advantage for the upcoming SUNYAC playoffs with this victory, too, the semifinal round slated to start this coming Wednesday. The Red Dragons conclude the regular season with a Saturday afternoon road trip to Potsdam.
Geneseo, ranked 11th in the country and with freshman Joe May out of Homer as a back-up defenseman, falls to 5-1 in the conference and 10-2 overall. The Knights can hope for a possible second chance in the playoff title game on May 3.
“We have to play smarter. Take nothing away from Cortland, because they’re a great team, but we’re capable of playing with them,” said Geneseo coach Jim Lyons. “They’re too dangerous, and you can’t make the mistakes we made and expect to get the best of them.”
GENESEO PLAYED well early, getting goals from top scorers Mike Puzzuto and Tom Constanza while securing that early 2-1 first quarter lead.
Heath’s first goal midway through the first quarter started a stretch of seven unanswered Red Dragons tallies, including goals by Fuchs and faceoff whiz Josh Cittadino a mere 11 seconds apart. The seven-goal outburst was capped by midfielder Joey Morgan, who fired home a shot from long range with 24 seconds to go before halftime.
The Red Dragons’ 8-2 lead at the break could have been greater if not for a couple of shots that glanced off the pipes, if not for seven saves in by Knights junior goalie Eddie Watts. Cortland held a 24-9 shot advantage and had captured 10 of 12 faceoffs (Cittadino doing most of the work there) when halftime arrived.
After junior attackman Constanza broke a long Geneseo scoreless stretch with the first goal of the second half, Cortland reeled off three straight goals to go up 11-3. Midfielder Adam Hyde led a fast break in which Fuchs provided the extra pass for a Heath point-blank finish. Heath provided the nifty cross-crease pass that Fuchs turned into a goal, and then Morgan struck moments after a Red Dragon extra-man scoring chance had expired.
Geneseo was still dangerous, getting goals from Ray Ryan and Pizzuto, when Heath spoiled any comeback hopes with a gem of a play. After grabbing a crucial groundball in his own end, he somehow located Fuchs perched on the doorstep with a crisp pass through traffic. Fuchs applied the finishing touches and Cortland had a 12-5 lead to carry into the fourth quarter.
Some four minutes later, this game was really over thanks to a final Cortland flurry.
A mere 34 seconds into the fourth quarter, sophomore Brian Krol scored an extra-man goal. That was followed up by Cittadino rifling in his second goal of the game and defensive midfielder Keith Greene scoring his first goal of the season on a fast break. Two unassisted goals by Heath a mere seven seconds apart finished off the Knights, the Cortland lead suddenly 17-5 with 10:57 left to play.
The benches emptied from there, Neal Hoops scoring for Cortland while Geneseo got a couple of late goals from Mike Cintineo and Steve Hutton.
CORTLAND STARTING goalie Mike Robinson finished with six saves before Matt Hipenbecker came in for the final three minutes. The work of the Cortland close defense of Lemon, senior Nick Buenti and junior Kevin Mitchell was vital, too, considering Constanza had 32 goals and Pizzuto 42 assists coming into the game for the Knights.
“Our defensive people make us a team to be reckoned with,” said Cortland assistant coach Jake Plunket, the former Homer Central and Syracuse University midfielder. “We can stop some offenses. They have a couple of potential All-Americans and we shut them down.”
Plunket cited Buenti’s improvement, pointed to a productive man-down defensive unit, as bright spots. Geneseo was 1-for-6 in extra-man scoring chances, and that lone goal came late in the proceedings.
Cortland was 2-for-3 in man-ups, getting goals from Chris Dutkowsky and Krol.
Cortland experience, with a bunch of juniors and seniors who have played in back-to-back nation title games, comes in handy, too when it comes to performing in big games like this one.
“It lets us put the bar way up there and everyone expects nothing but a national championship,” said Lemon of Cortland’s lofty ambitions after winning the national title in 2006 and finishing second last year. “We’re all working for it.”
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