Eastern Connecticut vs. Keene State
May 6, 2006
The Game Story:
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Dave Carpenter (Jr./Redding, CT) broke a tie by scoring two unassisted goals in the final eight minutes in leading the top-seeded Warriors to a 14-12 victory over second-seeded Keene State College in the finals of the Little East Conference playoffs Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 500 at Thomas Nevers Field.

With its 11th win in its last 12 matches, Eastern (12-4) returns to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in six years. The Warriors had won the regular-season title, edging Keene (11-3), 8-7, two weeks ago to gain the No. 1 seed and home field advantage. The Owls had ended Eastern’s four-year conference reign a year ago by winning the regular season, then besting Eastern in the title game at Keene, NH.

Carpenter, the conference leader in assists and points, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring nine goals and contributing nine assists in two playoff wins. Against Keene, he had five goals and six assists. Two of Carpenter’s goals tied the game and two gave the Warriors’ one-goal advantages.

Neither team led by more than two goals, with both teams managing two-goal advantages twice.

Eastern, ranked 14th in New England, erased a 12-11 deficit in the fourth quarter by scoring the final three goals of the match. Pete Hamilton (So./Rutland, VT) tied the match for the ninth and final time with his fourth goals with 8:20 left, set up on a pass from behind the cage by Carpenter. Mike Annunziato (So./Norwalk) won the ensuing faceoff, and the Warriors possessed for a half-minute before Carpenter beat Keene goalie Matt Johnson to give Eastern the lead for good, 13-12, with 7:48 left. Eastern controlled the ball over the next five minutes before Carpenter came from behind the cage to score from in close to give the Warriors a two-goal advantage with 1:50 left.

The conference championship was the first for Eastern under second-year head coach Nicholas Smith. “Our guys were pumped… we brought it back,” said Smith afterward. “As a staff, we told the team at halftime that good, productive possessions in the second half would win this game. Whoever possessed the ball consistently in the second half, was going to win. And that’s what happened,” added Smith.

Keene, ranked 15th in New England, held a slim 42-40 advantage in shots, but only three of them came in the final quarter. Tony Santa Fe, , who scored five goals on 12 shots, gave the Owls a 12-11 lead when he scored an unassisted goal 11 seconds into the final quarter. Keene, however, was held to just two shots the rest of the way.

“We figured the game was going to come down to which team had more offensive possessions in the last five minutes,” said Smith. “And we got some huge faceoffs and some huge ground balls. That was the deciding factor in the game.”

Annunziato won 14 of 26 faceoffs and led Eastern with eight ground balls. Rob Quamily (Sr./Mamaroneck, NY) added six ground balls Keene faceoff man Joe Rider won 15 of 29 faceoffs and collected five ground balls, as did Easton Kezer.

Two of the conference’s top scorers were effectively shut down. Eastern’s Chris Elrod (Jr./Riverside, CT), who entered the game with a team-leading 29 goals, did not have a goal and just one shot. He was marked primarily by Keene’s Mike Wood. Sean Panora, who brought a conference-leading 37 goals into the match, finished with one goal on three shots. He was marked closely by Eastern’s Steve Lane (Fr./Groton, CT).

Johnson and Eastern’s Kyle Savage (Fr./Southington) both made a number of key saves and each finished with 12 stops.

During the game, Carpenter broke the Eastern season records of 48 assists and 81 points, as well as the conference single-season assist record of 49. He now has 32 goals and 52 assists for 84 points.

Eastern is expected to open in the NCAA tournament with a first-round match Wednesday.