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Men's Lacrosse Advances to NCAA Finals! Upsets No. 1 RIT in Thriller, 19-18

Photo by Rich Barnes
Photo by Rich Barnes

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Wesleyan University men's lacrosse team has advanced to the national championship for the first time in program history as the ninth-ranked Cardinals upset undefeated and top-ranked RIT on the road Sunday in a semifinal thriller, 19-18.

Wesleyan led for most of the game and pulled away early in the fourth quarter, taking a commanding 17-9 lead with just 8:52 to play in regulation. However, RIT's potent offense scored nine goals in the final eight minutes, and a goal by Kyle Killen with four seconds to play cut the deficit to one. On the ensuing faceoff, a Wesleyan violation gave RIT the ball and one last chance, but a shot from deep was blocked as the Cardinals held on for the incredible victory.

Wesleyan avenged its loss to the Tigers in the semifinals rematch and enter the NCAA Division III Championship game with an 18-3 record. Last year, RIT snapped the Cardinals' 20-game win streak. Today, Wesleyan ended the Tigers' run (21-1), handing the home team its first and only loss of 2018. The Cardinals will play defending national champs and No. 3 Salisbury at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on Sunday, May 27 at 1 p.m.

HOW IT HAPPENED:

  • The Cardinals got on the board first with four minutes, 35 seconds elapsed in the first quarter, as senior midfielder Cole Turpin found the back of the cage.
  • Junior Matt Pogue evened the score at 1-1, just 31 seconds after Turpin's tally, and was assisted by senior Zach Ursu as the Tigers scored three of the next four goals.
  • RIT claimed its first lead of the afternoon courtesy of a goal by senior Ben Tackett with 8:31 showing on the clock, and then junior Carter Hawthorne pulled the Cardinals even with 6:14 left.
  • The Tigers took their second and final lead of the contest at 3-2 on a goal by senior Beau Riley, with an assist credited to sophomore Ryan Tandy with 4:38 remaining in the first.
  • The Cardinals changed the tide of the game with five unanswered goals, spanning between the first and second quarters. Senior captain Harry Stanton went to work at the end of the first frame, pouring in three goals during a span of one minute, 35 seconds, giving the Cardinals a 5-3 cushion.
  • Wesleyan kept its foot on the gas pedal during the second, taking a 7-3 lead. Turpin scored less than five minutes into the period, and then senior Taylor Ghesquiere unloaded a rocket, beating Tigers sophomore goalie Walker Hare top shelf with 9:16 remaining.
  • Freshman Ryan Barnable cut the deficit to three with 6:16 left, sending a bouncing shot into the back of the net from the right side after a hesitation move to create a shooting lane.
  • Wesleyan responded with a man-up goal, as Hawthorne spotted Stanton all alone on the left side of the attacking zone, and the New Canaan, Conn. native walked in and netted a bullet. Sophomore Zach Zavalick won the ensuing faceoff and found Ronan Jacoby in the offensive zone, and the freshman star put the Cardinals up 9-4 with 5:04 on the clock.
  • Tandy brought the hosts to within 9-5 with 4:26 remaining following a series of nifty passing.
  • Junior Christian Barker and Stanton gave the Cardinals a six-goal lead heading into intermission, with Barker scoring on the move toward his left, and Stanton firing a shot pass the goal line 45 seconds later with 2:02 remaining.
  • RIT regrouped and came out during the second half, and compiled a three-goal spurt in one minute, 15 seconds, during the first 2:22 of the third quarter.
  • Cardinals sophomore goalie Otto Bohan made an incredible stop with 8:32 left in the third on a drive by Tandy. Then, with 6:30 left in the third, senior Kyle Killen found the net, beating Bohan cleanly from the left side, which ended a 4-0 run and cut Wesleyan's lead to 11-9.
  • Stanton nearly put the Cardinals up 12-9 with 5:51 left, but Hare made a great reaction save for RIT. Five seconds later, Jacoby found the back of the net, which spring boarded a stretch of six unanswered goals for Wesleyan.
  • The Cardinals went up 13-9 just one minute, three seconds into the fourth, as Turpin rifled a shot from distance on the right side into the net. The lead ballooned up to 14-9 on a one-hop goal by Jacoby with 13:23 left. Barker, Hawthorne and Zavalick tacked on one goal each in the first half of the fourth, and the Cardinals claimed their biggest lead of the day at 17-9 with 8:52 on the clock.
  • Over the next six minutes, 29 seconds, RIT went on an 8-1 run, as the Tigers cut the deficit to 18-17 with 2:23 on the clock with a goal by Killen. Stanton tallied a wrap-around goal with 1:08 flashing on the clock to give the squad a crucial two-goal cushion. Killen concluded the scoring for RIT with four seconds remaining. 

INSIDE THE NUMBERS:

  • Wesleyan was led offensively by Stanton's game-high six goals, as well as Turpin (3g, 1a), Jacoby (3g), Hawthorne (2g, 2a), Barker (2g, 2a), Ghesquiere (2g) and Zavalick (1g, 1a). Defensively, Andres Rodriguez '18 caused two turnovers, and Jake Cresta '18 and Zavalick led the team with seven ground balls each. Bohan made 10 saves in net, including several crucial ones, as he improved to 16-2 overall.
  • Killen led the Tigers' offensive attack with five goals and one assist, while Barnable dished out a game-high six assists and also scored once. Tandy added four goals and one assist and Aidan Milburn scored twice. In all, 12 players factored into the scoring for RIT.
  • The Cardinals outshot RIT, 43-35, and held a 36-32 lead in ground balls. The Tigers held a slight 21-40 edge in faceoffs.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE:

  • Wesleyan's 19 goals are a season-high.
  • The Cardinals are riding a historic stretch in which they are 38-5 the last two seasons while reaching the semifinals both years.
  • They are now 2-1 all-time against RIT, with all three games occurring in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Wesleyan knocked off the No. 2 and No. 1 teams in the country this week in thrilling fashion. The Cardinals defeated Tufts in the quarterfinals behind a game-winning goal by Ghesquiere with just 20 seconds on the clock, and displayed their best offensive performance of the season today against the undefeated Tigers.

HEAD COACH JOHN RABA:

  • "It was an unbelievable effort from our guys. We came out with great focus, we knew that RIT is traditionally a strong team coming out of the gate. They have a lot of firepower and are one of the top scoring teams in the country, and we really did a great job of making sure we kind of controlled the tempo—being patient on offense and hanging in there on defense. 
  • "Otto had some great saves early on and kept things at bay, and then we started to get some confidence offensively, knowing that we could score on these guys, and we felt like we could start running on people. Those things definitely helped. 
  • "That was awesome, I'm really pumped for the program."