May 19, 2008
Cortland rides back to final
Earns Salisbury rematch after routing IC in semis
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland’s Billy Fuchs (33) and Josh Cittadino (18) celebrate with fans after defeating Ithaca College Sunday to move on the the Division III Championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., this Sunday.
SUNY Cortland players emerged from their locker room and were prepared to take the field when senior Keith Greene, one of four Red Dragon team captains, turned to address his teammates.
“This is what we’ve played for all year. This is ours,” shouted the energetic defensive midfielder prior to the start of this NCAA Division III semifinal lacrosse showdown with rival Ithaca College on this rainy Sunday afternoon.
The day would, indeed, belong to Cortland as the inspired Red Dragons dispatched the Bombers in convincing 16-5 fashion.
They did it with a relentless ride that made life miserable for the turnover-troubled Bombers. They did it with an offense that was both opportunistic and patient while getting four-goal production from senior attack man Billy Fuchs and junior midfielder Joey Morgan.
A surge of six unanswered first half goals proved to be decisive as Cortland avenged its lone loss of the season, an overtime stumble at Ithaca back on March 22.
So after dominating on their Stadium Complex home turf in front of a sea of umbrella-wielding witnesses, it’s on to Cortland-Salisbury III for the Red Dragons.
This coming Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in the Massachusetts hamlet of Foxborough, No. 1 ranked Salisbury and No. 2 ranked Cortland will battle for the national title for a third straight season. The Red Dragons (now 18-1) won the first match-up in 2006 in Philadelphia, with the Sea Gulls (21-0) getting revenge last Memorial Day weekend in Baltimore.
Salisbury earned the chance to defend its title after getting past Gettysburg 11-10 in overtime in yesterday’s other semifinal game played in Maryland.
“We want to go into the national (title game) rolling,” said Morgan, and that mission was accomplished. The Red Dragons secured their 14th straight win by turning an early 2-1 deficit into a 7-3 halftime lead before completely taking over the second half.
Sometimes game statistics don’t tell the entire story, but in this case they pretty much do.
The Red Dragons out-shot the Bombers by a lopsided 51-25 margin.
To show how effective the Red Dragon ride was, Ithaca was only 13-for-26 clearing the ball out of its own end.
“Just too many turnovers,” said Ithaca head coach Jeff Long after his 17-3 season — that has included contributions from former Homer Central players Ben Connery in goal and senior Will Rumsey as a defensive midfielder — concluded. “We seemed nervous and out of sorts, but they’re a good team.”
Plus Cortland has been in this situation before, unlike Ithaca. The Bombers, who rallied past Williams College before beating Western New England in overtime to get the chance to face Cortland, were making their first appearance in a semifinal game since 2002.
“It plays a part,” said Long of the Cortland edge in big-game experience. “But that’s a team that has a chance to win the national championship. They took us apart.”
“WE KNEW WE had a lot of match-ups that physically favored us,” said second year Cortland head coach Steve Beville. “Ithaca is a good team and has had a great season, but I thought we were bigger and more physical then they were and that was the difference.”
Senior midfielders Adam Hyde and Josh Cittadino added two goals apiece for the Red Dragons. Senior attackman Ryan Heath did not try to force things against the dogged defense of Ithaca’s Neth Wiedermann and dished out a couple of nifty assists.
Kyle Simensky, Brian Krol and Eric Parah also scored goals against overworked Bomber goalies, with junior Connery coming up with 10 saves during his first half stint between the pipes.
But as Morgan would point out afterwards: “It all starts with defense.
“We pick each other up,” the junior out of Putnam Valley added talking about the Cortland offense and defense. “If the defense has a bad game, we pick they up. If we have a bad game, they pick us up.”
Forcing Ithaca mistakes with a relentless ride, or creating turnovers at the defensive end and turning them into transition goals, was part of this combined effort.
“We ride teams hard because that’s a huge part of our game,“ said senior Red Dragon close defenseman Nick Bueti, who held Ithaca 50-goal scorer Matt Nelligan to a pair of goals. And one of those Nelligan tallies was on a man-up situation.
“But like Joey Morgan said, the offense and defense, we feed off each other,” added Bueti. “When we’re both firing on all cylinders, we’re unstoppable. Unstoppable.”
After Morgan opened the scoring in this game, Ithaca got goals from Nelligan (off a great Nic Heckman pass) and Craig Lepaine for a short-lived 2-1 lead.
Cortland’s Cittandino turned a turnover into a fast break goal to tie things at the 5:16 mark. The Red Dragons then struck for a pair of moentum-turning goals in the final minute of that opening quarter — Simensky beating Connery with a bouncer from the left wing while Hyde swept to his right and fired a shot in the corner — and Cortland was up 4-2.
FUCHS STARTED his offensive assault with two goals to start the second quarter, Morgan converted after defensive midfielder Greg Steward legged the ball downfield, and the lead was up to 7-2.
Ithaca really needed the unassisted goal Logan Bobzien scored with 52 seconds left in the first half, but it did not alter Red Dragon moments.
Cortland’s Krol and Ithaca’s Nelligan exchanged extra-man goals to start the third period, but starting with a nice Fuchs finish off a crisp cross-crease pass from Heath, the Red Dragons would score the next eight goals to win going away.
Goalie Mike Robinson was steady in goal with nine saves before being relieved in the fourth quarter and the Red Dragon reserves got plenty of late playing time, a departure from a comeback win over Springfield College in the second round an overtime escape over Middlebury College in the quarterfinals.
So after the game attackmen Heath and Fuchs, buddies who came to Cortland after being teammates at Sacred Heart in Connecticut, were waiting to get their mugs in front of the television cameras. There were also anxiously awaiting how the other semifinal, still in overtime at the momenet, would turn out.
“I don’t care who we play, I’m just happy to be there,” said Heath of getting to the finals for a third straight year.
Fuchs then interjected: “But you know who we want to play.”
Well, Cortland will gets its shot.
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