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May 30, 2012

 

Red Dragons fall a run short

St. Thomas ousts Cortland with 7-6 victory

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There was not much to differentiate between these two undefeated lacrosse teams.
To SUNY Cortland’s chagrin, however, the bevy of experienced seniors on Salisbury University — featuring the immense talents of Division III Player of the Year Sam Bradman — tipped the edge towards the No. 1 ranked Sea Gulls from the Maryland shore on Sunday afternoon.
In only the second-ever Division III title game played between two unbeaten schools, Bradman’s six goals and two assists did most of the damage in handing the second-ranked Red Dragons a 14-10 setback as somewhat fewer than the announced crowd of 17,004 spectators looked on at sun-drenched Gillette Stadium.
The other unbeaten showdown was back in 1995, when Salisbury beat Nazareth College 22-13 in the tournament finale.
Cortland held a couple of first quarter leads against Salisbury, pulled even at 7-7 when All-America senior attackman Greg Wright picked up a pair of crucial goals to open the second half and was within 11-10 with 12:46 left to play when sophomore attackman Cody Consul emerged from behind the cage to tuck home a shot.
Not bad stuff against a Salisbury defense considered the best in the country, having allowed only 4.77 goals per game coming into the championship clash and having held rival Stevenson to a mere two goals in a semifinal victory.
“Anytime you take the field you’re taking up a challenge. We, as an offense, felt we had something to prove,” said senior attackman Mike Tota, who had three goals and an assist to lead the Red Dragons in scoring.
But after Consul’s goal, Cortland came up empty offensively over the closing 12 minutes as Salisbury pulled away with goals from Ryan Clark (at 9:05), Lantz Carter (at 8:20) and Bradman (at 2:57) to wrap up a perfect 23-0 campaign. “It was back and forth the whole second half. They just made a couple of more plays,” noted Cortland’s Wright.
The game’s final three-goal margin, created when Bradman scored into a net vacated by goalie Mike Kaminski as Cortland’s defense scrambled in search of a turnover, was the biggest advantage either side enjoyed all day.
“Our guys showed a ton of heart,” said head coach Steve Beville after Cortland’s 21-game unbeaten streak was snapped. That win total and the winning streak are both school bests.
“We lacked some execution defensively, and part of that was Bradman,” added Beville, as the Sea Gulls leader became the first player in Division III to be named the title game MVP in consecutive seasons. “I’m telling you now, without Bradman it’s a different ball game and there’s no way we lose to that team if they don’t have that guy.”
A SENIOR FROM CANTON in Northern New York, who was headed to Division I Hobart College before being lured to Salisbury by head coach Jim Berkman, the sleek Bradman finished the season with a team-high 71 goals and 29 assists as one of 18 seniors the Sea Gulls depend upon.
“We had a great senior class, 18 kids who contributed a great deal over a four-year period,” said Coach Berkman after defending champion Salisbury won its 10th national title. Seven of those championships have come since 2003, including three wins at Cortland’s expense.
“We also had the second and I think fifth all-time leading scorers in the history of Salisbury on the same team, and that seldom happens,” he added, referring to senior attackman Matt Cannone nd Bradman. “With those two ingredients you tend to win a lot of games.”
“Physically, you could tell they were older than us,” said Beville. “Basically, the core of all their scorers are seniors, tons of points, defensemen, all-around. So, hopefully, we’ll be good enough to get another shot at them.”
Cortland freshmen middies Matt Rakoczy and Mike Cantelli had goals in an opening stanza that finished in a 3-3 standoff. After Bradman begin his big day with a goal 29 seconds into the game, Rakoczy answered just over a minute later before Tota gave Cortland a 2-1 lead off a nifty fast break. Long-stick senior midfielder Jack Kennedy gobbled up a ground ball after Cortland’s defense forced a turnover leading to crisp passes from defenseman Brian Winterfeldt and Cantelli before Tota finished things off.
After a Salisbury equalizer, the last Cortland lead came from Cantelli with a hard shot on top. Three straight goals by Salisbury, two by Bradman and the other by Cannone, put Cortland in a 5-3 hole. That’s when sophomore middie Joe Slavik found the corner of the net midway through the period before Tota scored a tying goal off another fabulous fast break. Defensive middie Doug Meehan came up with that assist, coming after Kaminski made a save in goal and a clearing pass out to midfield.
Cortland could have, should have, gone into halftime at least tied, too.
Instead, a freshman mistake that created a Cortland turnover was turned into a go-ahead goal by Salisbury’s Jeff McGuire with 1:47 left to play. Salisbury won the ensuing faceoff — junior Tyler Granelli giving the Sea Gulls a 16-10 faceoff advantage on the day — and Carter scored off a heads-up Cannone assist in a crowd of players jostling near the crease with a mere 1.4 seconds left before the break.
“INSTEAD OF US GETTING the last shot in the half, possibly going up 6-5 or at worse being 5-5, it’s now 7-5. That hurt us,” said Beville of those final minutes of the opening half. “It wasn’t the key to the game, but that hurt. We made a comeback, we made it 7-7, we made it 11-10, but Salisbury just made a few more plays. Our guys left it out on the field. They played their hearts out.”
Wright opened the second half with a fast break goal from a Winterfeldt assist on a clear, and then scored a man-up goal off a Tota assist. That’s when Bradman stepped up, scoring back-to-back goals put the Sea Gulls ahead to stay at 9-7. Three times goals by Slavik, Tota and Consul pulled Cortland to within a goal, but the Red Dragon never evened things up again.
Bradman, who hones his vast skills playing box lacrosse in Canada in the summertime, was the culprit who did in Cortland in the end.
“The original game plan was to see how the game went, put a (long) pole on him and see how he reacted,” said Coach Beville. “After his third goal, we decided to put a shortie on him and shut him off, and that worked a little bit, but their pick-and-roll game was outstanding today. Sam’s box experience was a big key. There’s a reason why he’s the Player of the Year. He was the difference today, without a doubt.”
“The first year when I came here (to the national title game) as a sophomore, I was sort of star-struck by it and overwhelmed,” said Bradman, Salisbury beaten by Tufts in that 2010 final. “Ever since I’ve been relaxed. I love big competition, big games, ever since high school. Once I get in a big game my intensity goes up.”

 

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