With 2.2 seconds left in overtime, Mike Felice tucked a goal under Max Zarchin, giving Cortland their first Division III title. The Dragons and Gulls exchanged goals all afternoon, but Cortland was able to keep pace and eventually pull out the W.
Cortland ends Salisbury's 69-game win streak. Salisbury plays the bridesmaid for the first time in four years. This is the first playoff loss for their seniors. From not having a coach a few months before the season started to Division III champs, this has been quite a year for Cortland.
Cortland asserted themselves early in the game. They took the opening face, and soon after drew first blood. Moving the ball well, Felice kicked a pass from behind to Ryan Simensky sitting on the crease for the goal. Salisbury looked uncharacteristically sloppy early, botching passes and getting beat, yet they still pressed Cortland hard. The Gulls a suffered huge blow when Mike Hurley went down with a knee injury early in the first. After the game, Hurley was unsure of the extent of the injury, but said a torn ACL or PCL was possible.
Cortland couldn’t enjoy their lead too long. Salisbury’s Matt Dasinger got the ball on a clear, carried down the field, and ripped a shot past Cortland goalie Ben Gaebel. Cortland jumped back on top when Felice got a pass from Adam Hyde. Felice attacked the post, and his defenseman got hung up sliding across the crease, allowing Felice to tuck the ball in under Zarchin.
The goal swapping continued as Salisbury exploited the sloppy substituting of Cortland, trapping them in a six on five. Moving the ball to the open man, Jimmy Creighton found Dasinger who finished. But Cortland scored 11 seconds later. Mike Abbott won the face, and the Dragons pressed a shot. Zarchin made the save, but on the ensuing clear miscommunication by Salisbury led to Kyle Lambert grabbing the loose ball and feeding Brian Atkins for the quickstick goal. Salisbury would end the quarter with another tie as Creighton worked on a D middie, stepped off, and hit a cutting Ryan Rohde for the finish.
Salisbury opened up the next quarter with a penalty. As time on Cortland’s EMO ran out, crisp passing left Matt O’Connell feeding Felice for the low score. Salisbury tallied when Kylor Berkman passed to Creighton sitting all alone off the crease. No one slid, and Creighton threw a few fakes and flicked it past Gaebel. Salisbury grabbed their first lead when Berkman drove hard from behind and then bounced a pass across the crease that found Edwards waiting to slap it in. The lead would grow to two off an EMO goal by Creighton from Berkman again.
Cortland did not look shaken though. Abbott caught a pass from Ryan Simensky, got the inside step on his defender, dropped his stick and ripped a shot under the crossbar. They tied again as the Dragons worked behind the goal, lulling the Gulls away from the crease. Finally Felice hit Ryan Heath sitting alone on the crease for the finish. Salisbury would get the last word of the half, 20 seconds later. Eric Bishop passed from the point to Dan Boyer, who pops a shot over Gaebel, ending the half with Salisbury up 7-6.
Salisbury’s Chase Caruso drew a slashing penalty about 3:30 into the third. On the ensuing EMO, Abbott found Ryan Simensky for the low-to-high ripper. Cortland’s defense began to get sloppy in the third. Problems with defensive substitutions, lazy slides, and failures to pick guys up led to some easy goals for Salisbury.
“We tried to get our defensive personnel on as much as possible,” Cortland coach Rich Barnes explained. “More than once we made some bad decisions. That’s a coaching mistake.”
Luis Gonzalez carried the ball down on a clear, entered the box, and waltz right in for the goal. Great faceoff play from Cortland gave them an easy goal. Josh Cittadino won the face and intitiated a textbook four-on-three break. The play ended with Lambert hitting Heath for the goal. But Salisbury jumped ahead as Gonzalez scored again, almost exactly like his first.
Another faceoff fastbreak led to another goal for Cortland. This time Lambert was on the finishing end of a Heath feed. The Dragons got their first lead of the half at 10-9 when Heath waited behind. When no one challenged him, he wrapped around and put a shot over Zarchin with almost no angle. Gonzalez answered with his third straight goal off a feed from J.B. Sheridan.
The flurry of third quarter goals continued as Brett Yoder found Rohde on the crease. Rohde spun out of a barrage of checks, reset, and fired past Gaebel. Heath added his fourth of the day as he cut from the top and was fed from behind by Kyle Simensky.
The tit-for-tat scoring that occurred the first three quarters was not there in the fourth. Tied at 11, the lack of goals left no lack of tension. Gaebel made some huge stops for Cortland, eating up long-range shots and rebounds. Salisbury grabbed the lead, exploiting Cortland’s poor substitutions again. The Gulls worked it around the horn, ending with Rohde finding an open Eric Bishop coming around the post for the score.
Salisbury held strong, with Zarchin also making a few good stops. Time was running out for Cortland. With 57 seconds left, Ryan Simensky drove from up top, looking to find a cutter or a shot. Getting tied up on a good check, Simensky began to fall to the ground and threw the ball at the crease just to try to make something happen. The ball floated, and both Zarchin and one of his defensemen could not follow its awkwardly slow flight. It landed in the net, tying the game at 12. Gaebel made one more huge stop for the Dragons as Berkman ripped a shot from 10 yards, but the big boy was able to deflect it, sending the game to overtime.
Cortland tried to end the game off the opening OT faceoff. Cittadino popped the ball out, pushed the fastbreak, but this time the Dragons made one pass too many and missed the bad angle shot. Gaebel kept his team in it, making two more tough saves, one on an outside shot and the next on its rebound. Gonzalez got a great look from 10 yards, but ripped his shot wide. Dasinger could have ended it as his man slipped, and he got a wide-open look, but his shot rattled the crossbar.
Cortland was finally about to get the ball down field to Felice. Feeling he had the edge, Felice drove on his man, got the inside step near the crease, and popped in a shot under Zarchin as he was getting pushed/falling into the crease with two seconds left.
“I knew that I needed to get a shot off or it was going into a second overtime, and we didn’t want to give them that chance,” Felice said after the game. “I was fortunate to beat my man and just shot it to the bottom corner.”
The goal stood and Cortland won their first DIII Men’s Lacrosse Championship 13-12, beating this legendary Salisbury squad.
Felice may have earned Most Outstanding Player, but the game really belonged to Gaebel. His 18 saves, some at crucial points, kept his team in this game. Though he may not have a physique cut of stone, he was a wall when he had to be.
“If there is anyone I couldn’t be happier for it’s Benny,” Barnes said after the game. “He had a season that was a coach’s dream.”
Though they lost, Salisbury’s senior class still boasts some impressive feats: 80-2 career, four championship game appearances, and three consecutive titles.
“I want to celebrate the seniors today and celebrate the success of Salisbury lacrosse,” Gulls’ coach Jim Berkman said. “We made a few mistakes, but we have no regrets, and we left it on the field today.”
The story of this season has been an interesting one for Cortland. After coach Leelan Rodgers left the school to take a post as director of lacrosse operations at Syracuse in the fall, Rich Barnes half-reluctantly stepped in as interim head coach. Behind strong senior leadership, the team rallied around Barnes.
“I really asked the seniors to step-up, and I put it on their shoulders to change things…this was their team,” Barnes said after the game. “We’ve come a long way.”
Despite his success, Barnes is keeping his headcoaching job just interim. “I kind of new this was going to be my one and only chance,” he said. “One and done.”
Future plans aside, Cortland can enjoy the win. From excitement to tension to elation, this was a game for the ages, an unexpected ending to an extraordinary Cortland season.
“Right now I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Barnes said. “How many guys can get a job for a year and win a national championship, and beat a team that’s won 69-games in a row.”
|Jimmy Creighton||(2, 2)|
|Kylor Berkman||(0, 3)|
|Ryan Rohde||(2, 1)|
|Luis Gonzalez||(3, 0)|
|Matt Dasinger||(2, 0)|
|Eric Bishop||(1, 1)|
|Dan Boyer||(1, 0)|
|Mike Edwards||(1, 0)|
|Jb Sheridan||(0, 1)|
|Brett Yoder||(0, 1)|
|Max Zarchin||6 (0.316)|