May 27, 2008
Sea Gulls shoot down Red Dragons
Salisbury snipers spoil Cortland’s title dreams
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Billy Fuchs (33) and Ryan Heath of SUNY Cortland pressure Salisbury goalie Nick Fiorentino during Sunday’s NCAA Division III championship game in Foxborough, Mass. Defending champion Salisbury kept the crown with a 19-13 victory.
By ALAN BUTLER
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As somber head coach Steve Beville pointed out late Sunday afternoon, his SUNY Cortland squad came into this NCAA Division III championship lacrosse game having allowed only seven goals per contest.
So when defending champion Salisbury University scored seven times on the first eight shots launched on goal over the opening 15-minutes of play in this title clash at Gillette Stadium, that was a pretty bad omen for the Red Dragons.
Falling behind by a 7-3 margin in the highest scoring opening quarter ever in a Division III title game proved to be too much of a burden for the Red Dragons to overcome, especially against a team with the winning pedigree Salisbury displays every spring.
The No. 1 ranked Sea Gulls built a seven-goal lead, withstood a Red Dragons third quarter comeback bid and pulled away for a 19-13 victory before record gathering of 24,317 sun-baked fans. It was the fifth national title in the past six seasons for the Maryland school.
The Sea Gulls had a 69-game winning streak halted by Cortland in the 2006 title game, when the Red Dragons prevailed 13-12 in overtime. Coach Jim Berkman’s team has reeled off 45 straight wins since then, including earning revenge in last year’s Division III final when Cortland fell 15-9.
Senior midfielder Kylor Berkman — the son of the all-time coaching win leader in the sport — had five goals, two assists and was named the Most Valuable Player in this title game rubber match won by his Sea Gulls.
“We made some uncharacteristic poor decisions in the first quarter and just dug a hole for ourselves,” said Beville, after a 14-game winning streak and an 18-2 season came to an end for the Red Dragons.
“It was a little shock to our system, but we kept fighting,” added Beville after a Cortland team known for its quick starts struggled in the early going.
This was not a case of Cortland not doing enough to win.
Senior midfielder Chris Hannon pumped in a career high four goals and added an assist, junior midfielder Joey Morgan also tossed in four goals and picked up an assist and senior attackman Ryan Heath reached a couple of career milestone with two goals and two assists.
Heath became the first Red Dragon to score over 100 points in a season, finishing with 53 goals and 48 assists. He also became the fourth player in Red Dragon history to reach the century mark in both goals and assists, the captain out of Baldwinsville ending his remarkable career with 132 goals and 100 assists in just three seasons.
Cortland out-shot Salisbury 42-33 and won the groundball battle by a 48-44 margin. With senior Josh Cittadino shaking off a shoulder injury suffered during the game, the Red Dragons finished with a 20-15 faceoff edge, too.
Cittadino added a goal and an assist to what Coach Beville termed a “gutsy performance.” Midfielders Adam Hyde and Brandon Misiaszek also scored. Senior attackman Billy Fuchs was shut out in the goal department, but contributed two assists.
Still, this game pretty much belonged to the snipers from Salisbury after the Sea Gulls answered a game-opening Morgan goal with four unanswered tallies. The champs never trailed after that early outburst.
The winners were only the second team to score in double figures against the Red Dragons this season. Middlebury was the other school to do that, coming in an 11-10 overtime loss to the Red Dragons in the NCAA quarterfinals.
“It’s that much more frustrating to reach a goal and fall short,” said Cortland’s Morgan after this third consecutive title game opportunity was squandered.
THIS SEEMED TO be a season where Salisbury was vulnerable, having lost its entire defense from a year ago. The Sea Gulls were also down to their third string net-minder — fifth year senior and former Heath high-school teammate Nick Fiorentino — after the dismissal of two goalies from the team prior to last Saturday’s overtime semifinal win over Gettysburg.
But Fiorentino not only made 14 saves between the pipes in just his second start, he also provided an emotional lift for the Sea Gulls with a first quarter check that kept open senior attackman Kyle Simensky from getting a point-blank scoring chance.
“He’s been a coach on the field,” said Coach Berkman of the hard-working Fiorentino, noting all the work the goalie put into preparing for games even as a third-stringer. “When a student of the game gets his opportunities, he usually plays pretty well.”
On the other hand, junior Red Dragon goalie Mike Robinson struggled — even after returning when Coach Beville went to back-up Matt Hipenbecker for a third quarter spell.
“I don’t put all of our ills and troubles on Mike’s shoulders, but he had a tough time,” said Beville, Robinson with just six saves during his 51 minutes facing the high-powered Sea Gulls. Beville also called the victors “One of the greatest shooting teams in NCAA history.”
A midfield unit self-dubbed “The Aces” did most of the damage. While Kylor Berkman led the way, senior Bruce Richardson also rifled in five goals. Mike Van Kamecke added three goals and an assist from the Sea Gulls midfield.
“They cause a lot of havoc because you have to pick your poison,” said Coach Berkman of trying to defend his top middies.
CORTLAND WAS within 8-6 early in the second quarter as both teams came out firing away, Morgan and Hannon each with three goals at that juncture.
Salisbury went ahead 9-6 on a Richardson goal and then both teams went scoreless for the final 11 minutes of the opening half.
But the start of the third quarter proved fatal to the Red Dragons, starting when Berkman and Stephen Krasco converted extra-man scoring chances. The Sea Gulls scored five of the first six goals in that stanza, the lone Cortland success a man-up shot in front by Morgan off a nice Fuchs feed.
Down 14-7, Beville called a timeout and the Red Dragons responded behind Cittadino — who won five straight faceoffs.
Heath scored a quick goal from a Cittandino fast break feed following a faceoff win. Hannon swept to his right to collect his fourth goal. Hannon then set up Heath for a goal, with Heath played the role of passer as Missiaszek connected from the side.
That quickly Cortland was within 14-11 with 3:46 left in that third quarter.
But there would be no dramatic comeback. Richardson scored twice and the Sea Gulls were on their way to another title, though Cittadino and Hyde collected fourth quarter goals.
Salisbury scored its final three goals against a gambling defense to pull away, Berkman throwing the game’s final tally into an empty net. The game ended with Heath being denied by Baldwinsville buddy Fiorentini on a breakaway, trying to beat the goalie with a low shot.
As Fiorentini went to celebrate with teammates after that final save, Heath flung his stick towards the Red Dragon bench in final frustration.
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