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May 14, 2009

 

Dragons survive to reach semis

Morgan’s 4th quarter goal tops WNE, 6-5

Dragons

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland goalie Matt Hipenbecker (1), is hit by Western New England’s Brody Savoie (15) in the first half of Wednesday’s NCAA quarter-final round game. Hipenbecker made 13 saves in 6-5 Red Dragons’ victory.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Still aglow from what had just transpired, from having kept this special lacrosse season alive by scoring the decisive fourth quarter goal, SUNY Cortland midfielder Joey Morgan was trying not to get too carried away by his emotions.
“We’ve got practice tomorrow, that’s as far ahead as I‘m going to look,” said the relieved senior team captain. “That’s the happiest thing I can say at this point of the season.”
Ah, practice.
Having practice to look forward to means Morgan and his 17-2 Red Dragons are still chasing after the dream of winning an NCAA Division III championship.
Going back to the rigors of practice means Morgan and his senior classmates have more days to savor before their collegiate careers come to an end, hoping that occasion arrives with a fourth consecutive appearance in the national title game Memorial Day weekend.
Coach Steve Beville’s stickers still refuse to make it easy on themselves during this current post-season success story, however. On this Wednesday afternoon it would take a Morgan tally midway through the final period — the only second half goal scored by the Red Dragons — to enable natinally fourth-ranked Cortland to escape with a 6-5 quarterfinal round victory over ninth-ranked Western New England (17-3).
This was the third consecutive playoff game which tested the Red Dragons’ late-game poise after early leads evaporated, not the best of habits to take into Sunday’s 1 p.m. tournament semifinal hosting of Middlebury College (15-2) back at this same SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex site.
Cortland had a late lead vanish in a one-goal victory over Geneseo in the SUNY Athletic Conference title game that got the Red Dragons into the NCAA tournament, then squandered most of a seven-goal halftime advantage in last weekend’s 15-12 second round NCAA victory over Springfield College.
Against a Western New England squad riding an 11-game winning streak and looking to avenge a season-opening 15-7 loss to Cortland, there were more second half Red Dragon struggles. Those woes arrived after the Red Dragons were at their dominate best — especially the defensive play in front of sharp senior goalie Matt Hipenbecker — while grabbing a 5-0 first half lead before the Golden Bears began growling back.
The visitors, who also hail from Springfield in Massachusetts, finally had something to feel good about when team scoring leader and senior attackman Brody Savoie emerged from behind the crease and scored with 1:06 left prior to intermission.
“In this tournament you have to get comfortable, and that goal made us more comfortable and ready to play,” said Western New England coach John Klepacki of that much-needed emotional lift.
WITH A DEFENSE that has allowed opponents to score a mere six goals per game suddenly stifling the Red Dragons, the Golden Bears were more than comfortable. They became outright dangerous.
Twice in the third quarter Savoie emerged from behind the cage to score, his hat trick giving him 45 goals this season. And when an extra-man goal by Tim Santye (after a slashing penalty Savoie drew) was followed by a Marty O’Brien shot from out front early in the fourth quarter, this game was suddenly tied at 5-5 and up for grabs heading into the final 12 minutes.
Both sides had chances to go ahead, but only Morgan was up to the task. He had to beat a couple of defenders while taking a circular route to the front of the Western New England crease, where he slipped a shot past frisky freshman goalie Brewster Knowlton.
“I saw they had a short stick on me. They had been poling me all game, so I tried to take him to the cage,” is how Morgan saw that scoring opportunity arise. The ‘poling me’ reference means the visitors were making sure a long-stick midfielder was always assigned to the SUNYAC Player of the Year.
“When’s the last time in the past three years have you seen us win a game like this?” wondered Coach Beville aloud after surviving this physical defensive struggle. “It was nice to win a low-scoring game like this.”
The last time Cortland won a game scoring six goals or less was in 2003, a 6-4 victory at Nazareth College.
Hipenbecker’s career-high 13 saves were a vital part to this Red Dragon success, opposing coach Klepacki saying “That’s the best game I’ve ever seen that kid have.”
While heaping credit on senior close defensemen Luke Lemon and Matt Noble, along with sophomore Justin Schneidman who came up with a crucial strip of Savoie late in the fourth quarter and a team-best six ground balls, Hipenbecker also spoke of his own improvement. “I’m a lot more confident and seeing the ball well. I’m growing up out there,” he said.
“We watched a lot of film this week, on them and on us, and from what we saw we were able to tidy up things on defense,” added Hipenbecker.
“We really got after them in the film room the last couple of days and the kids responded,” said Coach Beville.
THE CORTLAND DEFENSE seemed to have things under control, and it only seemed fitting that two of those early Red Dragon goals were scored by long-stick midfielders Cody Hoyt and Jack Kennedy in transition.
Though the 5-foot-6 Knowlton kept playing big in goal during his 17-save performance for the Golden Bears, DeLuca finally rifled in the game’s first goal with 2:55 to go in the first quarter. The lead was 2-0 attackman Jay DiStefano found freshman Mike Tota with a pass in heavy traffic in front of the crease for a quick-stick finish.
After DeLuca made it 3-0 just 21 seconds into the second quarter, it was time for those special transition goals by the Red Dragons.
A Hipenbecker save triggered a fast break that found senior Hoyt alone in front, where he scored off a pass from frosh attackman Mike Wright. With three minutes to go before halftime, freshman Kennedy out of West Genesee legged the ball out of the Cortland end, faked a pass and scored his second goal of he season.
“A couple of our offensive people got caught out of position in transition, and they scored on them,” said Golden Eagles coach Klepacki. “Cortland took advantage of our mistakes in the first half.”
Western New England didn’t make many mistakes in the second half, until the late going.
There was Savoie losing a vital possession when the 6-foot-5 Schniedman pried the ball free with 2:55 left to play, enabling the Red Dragons to clear the ball and start chewing up clock.
There were the Golden Bears taking two costly penalties trying to get the ball back as time ticked off. Down two players following those infractions, the visitors still forced a turnover, still got a hurried Savoie bounced shot off with 15 seconds left that Hipenbecker deflected over the Cortland cage.
“We had our shot,” summed up Klepacki.
“Another crazy one in Cortland,” summed up Morgan.

Cortland 6, Western New England 5
———
By periods:
Western New England 0 1 2 2 — 5
SUNY Cortland 2 3 0 1 — 6
Goals-Assists: WNE- Brody Savoie 3-0, Tim Santye 1-0, Marty O’Brien 1-0, Colin Houlihan 0-1, Scott Kukis 0-1. Corltand- Chris DeLuca 2-0, Mike Tota 1-0, Cody Hoyt 1-0, Jack Kennedy 1-0, Joey Morgan 1-0, Jay DiStefano 0-1, Greg Wright 0-1
Shots: Cortland 45, WNE 36
Ground Balls: Cortland 34, WNE 31
Clears: Cortland 27-of-30, WNE 21-of-28
Faceoffs: Cortland 8, WNE 7
Penalties: WNEC 4-for-3:30, Cortland 1-for-1:00
Extra-Man: Cortland 0-for-4, WNEC 1-for-1
Saves: Brewster Knowlton (WNE) 17, Matt Hipenbecker (C) 14