May 20, 2010
DeLuca, Dragons both feeling frisky
Defending champs pull away from RIT
By his own estimation, it was four or five weeks into this lacrosse season before SUNY Cortland midfielder Chris DeLuca began feeling really frisky again.
A damaged knee will do that to you, as the sturdy 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior out of Sayville on Long Island even missed a couple of early-season contests getting his injured hinge healthy.
“It still hurts in practice, but when game day comes around it’s fine because I can’t really feel it,” said DeLuca, adrenaline being the great healer.
The Red Dragons and DeLuca were both feeling fine and frisky Wednesday afternoon in the NCAA Division III tournament quarterfinals, Cortland pulling away to defeat visiting RIT 15-7 and move two wins away from repeating as national champions.
DeLuca scored five times in this victory, including back-to-back tallies to begin a fourth quarter stretch of seven unanswered Red Dragon goals that busted open a tight contest. The SUNY Athletic Conference and New York State Division III Player of the Year did more than score, too. A game-high 10 ground ball pick-ups and 11 faceoffs wins were part of the DeLuca contribution for a Cortland team that improved to 17-2 with a 16th consecutive victory.
DeLuca and his two middie mates — senior Brandon Misiaszek (who scored twice) and junior Pat Hayes (a goal and an assist) — gave the visiting Tigers problems all day long.
“They’re just peaking,” said RIT first-year head coach and former Homer Central goalie Jake Coon of the surging Red Dragons, who will now host Tufts (18-1) in semifinals on Sunday afternoon. The Cortland-Tufts winner gets to travel to Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend to play for the title, to face the winner of the other semifinal match-up that sends Salisbury (20-1) to Stevenson (19-1) Sunday.
“They’ve got a bunch of stud athletes, a lot of horses, especially at the midfield, and a lot of skilled kids,” praised Coon of the Red Dragons. “We hung in there with them the last time and I knew we were going to have to play a great game this time. I don’t think we played our best game. We needed to be as close to perfect as possible and we didn’t play that well.”
The ‘last time’ reference was about RIT’s 12-11 overtime loss to Cortland back in Rochester on March 31. Though the Tigers scored first in this rematch and kept this a two-to-three-goal game for most of the day behind a scoring hat trick by senior attackman Sean Gillies, they were unable to stay close over the final 15 minutes as a 14-5 season concluded.
“WE KEPT OUR composure a lot more in this game,” said Cortland junior defenseman Justin Schneidman of the difference between the two meetings. “It was a dog fight for three quarters and change, but it was only a matter of time before our shots started to fall.“
Junior attackman Jay DiStefano had two goals and an assist for Cortland, becoming the fifth player in school history to surpass 100 points in a single season. Attackmen Mike Tota, Brian Krol and Chris Wright; midfielder Neal Hopps and long-stick middie Jack Kennedy all got involved in the scoring.
Cortland out-shot RIT by a lopsided 46-29 margin, including a 17-3 first quarter advantage when goals by DiStefano, Krol (on the first of three successful Red Dragon man-ups) and DeLuca built an early 3-1 lead. That advantage would have been larger if not for some stellar saves by Tigers’ goalie Robert Tonnessen.
“Their goalie was hot, but we knew eventually he would start to to break down if we just kept ramming it down there,” said Cortland coach Steve Beville. “I thought the difference was our speed the midfield. We were able to run by them pretty much all day and create opportunities and we wore them down.”
Coon was impressed with another facet of the Red Dragons.
“Their defense... I think their defense this time around was probably the difference. They’ve tightened up,” said Coon of the junior long-stick Cortland defensive trio of Schneidman, Shane Crossett out of West Genesee and Jack Korzyp from Baldwinsville. They make life easier for steady freshman goalie Mike Kaminski, another Sayville native who finished with a half-dozen saves.
“We didn’t watch much film on them for the first game,” said Schneidman of the earlier RIT contest when Cortland allowed those 11 goals — which is the last time anyone has scored in double digits against this defense. “This time we were able to study what they do and their offense, mocked what they did, and it really paid off.”
BIG-GAME EXPERIENCE paid off, too. Cortland is playing in the NCAA tournament for the 10th consecutive year, looking to reach the title game for the fifth straight spring. This was RIT’s first post-season appearance since 2000, the Tigers beating Connecticut College 11-8 this past weekend to get a crack at Cortland.
That’s why Cortland didn’t get rattled in the second quarter.
When Gillies scored for RIT with 8:33 left in that second stanza to get the visitors within 3-2, DeLuca gobbled up the ensuing faceoff and long-sticker Kennedy converted off a nice Tota pass a mere 20 seconds later.
When Adam Vlassis fired an outside shot past Kaminski to get RIT within 4-3 at 6:38, just over a minute later middie Hayes was picking up a ground ball at full speed, circled in front of the net and provided a quick Cortland response.
When a hard shot from the left-wing by RIT’s Jordan MacIntosh trimmed the Cortland lead to 5-4 with 1:19 to in the opening half, DeLuca had a blocked shot bounce back into his stick and he put away his second goal a mere 26 seconds later.
“I think that’s where experience comes in, from having played in so many of these kind of games,” said Beville of those timely tallies. “We stayed poised. The boys stayed to task.”
Gillies’ third goal, coming just six seconds into the fourth quarter after Jerry Ragonese took a faceoff cleanly from DeLuca to trigger a fast break, had RIT within 8-6. But over a stretch of nearly 10 minutes Cortland found the net seven times to end the Tigers’ upset hopes, started with a DeLuca shot at 12:58 and finished by a DiStefano tally with 3:11 on the clock.
Man-up goals by DeLuca and Tota were part of that spurt, along with close range shots by Wright, Hopps and Misiaszek off respective passes from Zack Mulvaney, DeStefano and Hayes.
There would be no overtime needed this time around.
“We changed a few things, but it was more about what we were doing,” said DeLuca of dominating this rematch. “We took care of the ball better and just played with more intensity. If we play like that week in and week out, which we have, I think we’ll be just fine.”
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