The Delaware Blue Hens and the St. Joe's Hawks got the 2008 lacrosse season on the right foot, albeit early, with a scrappy 18-10 battle. The Blue Hens got five goals from senior attackman Vincent Giordano. Sophomores Martin Cahill and Curtis Dickson both added four points. St. Joe's was paced by senior Steve Varga's six points and freshman Scott Cullinan's five points.
Philadelphia, PA - As can be expected for the first game of the season and February 9th, this was a far from perfect lacrosse game. However, it did provide some excitement to the nearly 1,000 in attendance. The game began as expected, Delaware midfielder Martin Cahill got the scoring started less than a minute and a half into the game. Thanks to a lack of parking at St. Joe’s, the opening goal wasn’t seen by this reporter.
St. Joe’s quickly stepped up and proved that they’re not a pushover. Following the opening goal, St. Joe’s had a long, controlled possession. With some sharp cutting, they got a great opportunity inside. Delaware goalie and captain Tommy Scherr came up big with a point blank save. They finally got on the board with a high bounce shot by Scott Cullinan for his first career goal shortly after.
Going the other way, Delaware had a few good looks at the net and St. Joe’s goalie junior Erik Hotaling came up with what appeared to be three saves of his own. (This stat is probably off as the official score sheet said that Hotaling had only six saves in the game, despite what I thought I saw as two different stretches of three saves and a few other point blank ones.) Back on the offensive, senior attackman Steve Varga pushed down the side. He didn’t have much of an angle, but managed to squeeze a lefty shot just inside the pipe.
Less than two minutes later with another controlled possession, Varga below the GLE extended towards the sideline. He pulled his defenseman, the 6’6” redshirt freshman Pat Dowling out. Dowling went for an over-the-head check on the shorter Varga. Varga ran through it and left Dowling behind. Drawing the slide, Varga pushed it inside to Chris O’Neill and finished it for the 3-1 St. Joe’s lead.
Delaware finally managed to cut the lead. Sophomore Curtis Dickson dodged the entire St. Joe’s defense and managed to stick Delaware’s 2nd goal. He paid the price with a hit at the end, but it was a great individual effort. Surprisingly, a stick check wasn’t called after. St. Joe’s held for the last shot of the quarter and managed to draw two penalties with just three seconds left in the quarter: one for an illegal body check and the other for a slash.
At the end of the first, St. Joe’s had a 3-2 lead. They played the type of game they needed to stay with the faster, more athletic Blue Hens. A controlled offense kept the ball out of Delaware’s hands and smart possessions gave them the opportunity to beat Delaware’s defense when they became impatient and overextended.
Things changed in the 2nd quarter. Despite starting two men down, Delaware managed to get the ball back quickly. As they were killing the penalty, they called a timeout. Out of the timeout, Cam Howard started with the ball and sent a high pop fly over behind the goal to Vincent Giordano. Giordano caught it, tucked it inside and beat the St. Joe’s D to seemingly tie the game. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication Delaware had too many on the field and the tying goal was wiped off. They didn’t wait long to get it back. Cam Howard drove from X to his right with nothing there he rolled back to Dickson at X. Dickson caught it and drove to his right forcing Howard to switch and pop back to X. As Delaware’s attack likes to run a switch play behind, Dickson pretended to flip it back and got a step on his defender. He then got to the GLE and went underneath and beat Hotaling to tie the game at three.
Soon after Dickson’s goal, Howard beat his man top-side going to his left. Hotaling came out to double and turn him back. Somehow Howard managed to miss the open net and put the ball into the side of the net behind. After St. Joe’s cleared and Delaware got it back, midfielder Kevin Kaminski got it on the clear. The longpole slid and made a check which looked like it should have knocked the ball loose. This gave Kaminski a step as he sprinted down the alley and put a nice right-handed shot to the far pipe. 4-3 Delaware lead. As Delaware was fighting to pull away, Hotaling again came up with a couple of big saves with about 7:30 left in the half. (the official stat sheet said he only had one save in the quarter however).
St. Joe’s would tie the game again at 4. Following one of Hotaling’s saves there was a looseball in front of the net. Hotaling had it clamped, but Giordano hit a St. Joe’s defender in the head and knocked him over. The illegal body check gave St. Joe’s a man-up which they would capitalize on. Delaware answered with their own man-up goal to grab the lead again. On the ensuing face-off, freshman Anthony Ruiz jumped early and gave St. Joe’s a possession and as the new NCAA rule states sprinted straight off the field. This gave possession to St. Joe’s, but they weren’t able to take advantage of the numbers advantage, because their FOGO had to run off as well rather than stay and play offense.
Ruiz wound up being a solid 16 of 26 on the day. Facing off was one of the big questions of the year as Delaware graduated NCAA record holder Alex Smith. While Ruiz shares Smith’s motorcycle grip and got close to his success rate, he was different in that his primary move was to jump the ball as opposed to Smith’s clamp/plunger technique. Ruiz was penalized about four times for jumping early, and did benefit a couple of times as the refs appeared to miss a couple times where he jumped the whistle. Oddly he wasn’t credited with any groundballs, but he did add a goal in the 2nd quarter.
Despite not capitalizing on the transition opportunity following the illegal procedure, St. Joe’s did get a quality possession. Steve O’Brien ended it by driving and feeding across the middle. It looked like he missed his target as the ball went just over another St. Joe’s player, but Chris O’Neill caught it all the way on the backside and put a righty bouncer in to tie the game at five. Giordano would add one shortly after to make it 6-5. Following that came Ruiz’s goal. After winning the faceoff, Ruiz got possession at the top of the box, made a right-to-left split dodge and swept to his left. He put a nice lefty jump shot in to give Delaware the 7-5 lead heading into halftime.
St. Joe’s managed to capitalize on another man-up opportunity to start the 2nd half to make it 7-6. That was the last time St. Joe’s would be within a goal. The Blue Hens went on a three goal run to be answered by two Hawks’ goals to bring it to 10-8, before finally exploding for six goals to pull away to the 18-10 win.
As Delaware started to pull away, Giordano showed his ability for dodging to his right hand to create shots and an equal ability to finish them. While the Delaware attack was highly touted coming into the season, some of the middies showed their explosiveness. Howard, Dickson and Giordano seemed to work well together at the attack. As far as the team offense was concerned, it was a different look from last year. Last year’s team was predicated a lot on dodging to get the ball moving to attack the backside. A lot of the dodging in this game seemed to be to dodge to either shoot or to draw the slide and feed the crease for a shot.
Overall, St. Joe’s had opportunities to stay in the game. Delaware gave up nine minutes of penalties on 12 penalties that for the most part were the right call. Along with adding five goals, Giordano also had four penalties. The Blue Hens were clearly looking to play a physical style, one which likely put St. Joe’s off their game plan a little. As the season progresses though, they will have to channel the aggression to be within the rules. Many of the penalties were hits where the players went in high making contact with the opponents’ helmets. They won’t be able to afford nine minutes of penalties a game in order to get back to another Final Four.
Both teams had some sloppy turnovers, but again it’s February. If St. Joe’s can take some of the poise they showed early, they can make some noise in the MAAC this year. They looked like two different teams at times during this game. They capitalized on a respectable three out of nine man-up chances, but gave the ball up easily on some of the ones they didn’t score on.
For Delaware, the defense turned it on in the second half and put pressure on St. Joe’s both with their bodies and their sticks. As the game wore on Pat Dowling, after being beaten a couple of times early, picked up his play a bit. Tommy Scherr was solid in goal as can be expected for Delaware. He had a couple point-blank and off-the-shaft saves in his total of 10.
The season gets in full swing now as St. Joe’s stays at home for a battle with Patriot League Lehigh next Saturday. Delaware returns home to host UMBC next weekend.
|Steve Varga||(3, 3)|
|Scott Cullinan||(4, 1)|
|Chris O'neill||(2, 0)|
|Steve O'brien||(0, 1)|
|Alex Lopes||(0, 1)|
|Sean Evans||(0, 1)|
|Peter Slowik||(1, 0)|
|Erik Hotaling||6 (0.250)|