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May 6, 2010

 

Dragons romp to reach finals

Turn early struggle into 17-2 win

Lacrosse

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland High graduate Chris Fernandes (31) of Potsdam keeps a close eye on SUNY Cortland’s Jay DiStefano during Wednesday’s playoff semifinal. DiStefano had four goals as the Red Dragons rolled at home, 17-2.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

It did not take long for SUNY Cortland to squash some brash upset ambitions.
After allowing the visiting Potsdam Bears to build up an early dose of confidence in this conference lacrosse playoff semifinal, the Red Dragons pretty much took care of business. They turned a perilous one-goal first quarter lead into a rather convincing 17-2 romp on a warm and breezy Wednesday afternoon at the Stadium Complex.
The defending Division III national champions and SUNY Athletic Conference tournament top-seeds responded to potential peril by scoring 14 unanswered goals once the opening period concluded, Cortland cruising to a 12th consecutive victory. Eight of those tallies came in the decisive second quarter, a handful of those arriving over the final three and a half minutes in an impressive outburst that visibly deflated the underdog fourth seeds from the north.
Now the Red Dragons (14-2) will take on second seed Geneseo (10-3) in Saturday’s title game back at this same site, the winner of that 3 p.m. contest earning an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. Both teams are nationally ranked, Cortland holding down the No. 4 spot while Geneseo sits 12th in that Division III poll.
This will be a rematch of the regular season meeting back on April 14 at the Stadium Complex, when Cortland pulled out a 4-3 victory on a last-minute goal by junior attackman Jay DiStefano.
No late heroics were needed against Potsdam (7-8) once the Red Dragons found their stride.
“We had a little talk after that first quarter and everyone got their stuff together,” said senior midfielder Tom Burke, a defensive specialist who contributed a pair of goals, three assists and six ground ball pickups to this latest Cortland conquest. “We played strong and went two hands after ground balls and had good clears and finished shots away from the goalie’s stick. We played as team and ended up on top.”
Having 11 different players score goals was a plus, DiStefano with a team-high four tallies and an assist as part of a Red Dragon offense that fired off 44 shots compared to Potsdam’s total of 16.
“We got off to a little bit of a slow start, which is unusual for us,” said Cortland coach Steve Beville, a goal scored by Potsdam sophomore midfielder Ryan Paparella with 54 seconds left in the first period making this a 2-1 affair and creating some concern.
“Our guys stayed patient,“ added Beville. “We were rushing things a little bit and our fundamentals were pretty poor early, but once our guys started concentrating we didn’t have a lot of trouble.“
THAT SPELLED TROUBLE for two Potsdam folks making homecoming appearances — Chris Fernandes and Ben Gaebel.
Fernandes is a starting sophomore defenseman out of Cortland High who ended up having to play way too much defense for the Bears, as the Red Dragons spent most of the day firing shots at senior goalie Billy Richards. Having midfielders Chris DeLuca and Justin Battino win 17 of the 23 faceoffs taken, while the Justin Schneidman led defense was at its disruptive best, kept the ball in Cortland sticks for most of this afternoon.
“At the end of the first quarter we felt like we were doing a very good job of playing with them,” said Fernandes. “As it went on I guess we got tired, we were on defense for so long, and they got a couple of goals on us.”
Gaebel is the current Potsdam assistant coach and former Red Dragon goalie, the Carthage native best remembered for his stellar play in Cortland’s 2006 victory over Salisbury in the NCAA Division III title game. He now works under head coach and former Salisbury player Rick Berkman, while younger brother Kyle Gaebel is a back-up Cortland goalie.
“We were talking about weathering the storm, and we did that,” said Gaebel after his team hung close early. “But Cortland is a team of runs and you just feel so helpless when they got on that big run. They’re unbelievable. Their defense is so good I don’t even think they need a goalie. Their guys are so long up there. What are you going to do? They’re a great team.“
Two second quarter outbursts by Cortland settled this thing.
DiStefano, attackman Chris Wright and middie Brandon Misiaszek scored within a span of 1:52 early in the second quarter to turn that 2-1 lead into a 5-1 cushion. Defensive middie Eric Parah set up Wright’s fast break goal with a nifty takeaway, Burke the assistman.
Attackman Brian Krol, long-stick midfielder Sean Davern, Burke, DiStefano and midfielder Chris Dutkowsky were the goal scorers to close out the half — starting with Krol circling from behind the cage with 3:37 left and ending with a Dutkowsky blazer from the left wing with 18.7 seconds left. Sophomore Davern scored his first goal of the season just 11 seconds after Krol’s goal off another successful Red Dragon faceoff.
THE GAME WAS pretty much over then, though the Red Dragons tacked on five more goals in the third period before the starters got the rest of the afternoon off.
Pat Hayes and Brian Donahue added two goals to the offense, attackman Mike Tota had a goal and two assists, Neal Hopps had two assiss and Zach Mulvaney a goal and an assist.
“It’s hard to defend us because we’ve got a lot of guys who can score and we don’t have any one guy that’s irreplaceable on offense,” said Coach Beville. “And then our faceoff guys and defense did a great job. Our defense was a huge part of today.”
So now comes Geneseo, who beat visiting Oneonta 19-11 in yesterday’s other semifinal game.
“We’re assuming we have to win to get into the tournament. We’re not taking anything for granted and are looking forward to the rematch,” said Beville, fully aware Geneseo did not get an at-large berth into the NCAAs a year ago after losing to the Red Dragons in theSUNYAC finals.
“Our first goal right now is to win the SUNYACs on Saturday, after that we have to take it one game at a time and not look past anyone and hopefully we’ll keep that momentum going towards the championship,” said senior Burke. “You can’t look past anyone and take every game full force.”