ERIE, PA. – On the strength of three goals from a pair of first-team all-conference selections and a strong game at the defensive end, the 10th-ranked and third-seeded Lake Erie College men's lacrosse team strengthened its NCAA resume and earned a spot in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division II Lacrosse League Tournament Championship game with a 12-10 upset of second-seed and No. 8 Seton Hill University Friday (May 3) at Tullio Field in Erie.
The win sets up a rematch for the Storm (12-3) with undefeated and top-ranked tournament host Mercyhurst University in the conference title game Sunday, May 5, at noon. The Lakers escaped with a 13-12 win in Painesville on April 16.
Needing a signature victory to potentially jump Pfeiffer University for the fourth spot in the South Region, the Storm may have picked it up on Friday. They also got a measure of revenge in beating the Griffins (12-3) for the first time in five meetings. Earlier this season, Seton Hill jumped out to a 6-0 advantage and cruised to a 16-8 win over LEC.
But in the first playoff game ever for either team, it was the Storm that struck first. After each side was turned away on their opening possessions, junior Macgregor Johnston (Nainamo, B.C./Dover Bay) scored the game's first goal 2:48 into the contest. The lead would be short lived as the Griffins took advantage of Storm penalties and scored three straight man-up goals in less than two minutes to go on top 3-1.
A trio of All-ECAC picks - senior Josh Becker (Salamanca, N.Y./Salamanca), sophomore Reagan Harding (Saskatoon, Sask./Bishop Jones Mahoney) and senior Keegan Bal (Coquitlam, B.C./Centennial Secondary) – scored goals around another Seton Hill tally to close out the first period with a 4-4 tie.
After the early fireworks the two teams tightened up defensively, with freshman Tom Lipomi (Hamburg, N.Y./Hamburg) and SHU's Chris Ilse keeping points off the scoreboard for the first 11 minutes of the second quarter. Junior Trevor Tarte (Amherstburg, Ont./Kiski Prep) and Harding, who went around his back to beat Ilse for a highlight-reel goal, broke the stalemate to put LEC up 6-4 before Matt Delmonico scored his third goal of the game to cut the deficit to 6-5 at halftime.
Dylan Lefebrve scored twice early in the third, including another man-up goal, to put the Griffins back on top at 7-6.
But again, the Storm answered the bell. Bal tied it up at 7-7 with 7:45 left in the third quarter and Tarte added another just two minutes later to move Lake Erie back in front. Bal fed Johnston for another score later in the period and the Storm was on top 9-7 with 3:36 remaining in the period.
The Griffins responded with a Dylan Gelvin goal to break the Storm's 3-0 run, but Bal added his third goal of the game with a minute left to give LEC a 10-8 lead heading into the final frame.
James Delaney and Zach Hartman scored in the first half of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 10 with 8:24 to play and appeared to regain momentum in the back-and-forth affair.
That momentum would be fleeting for the higher seed. Senior specialist Bill Desiderio (Lancaster, N.Y./Iroquois) won the ensuing faceoff and just 24 seconds later Harding went low to get one by Ilse and regain the lead.
With a one-goal lead and eight minutes to play, Lipomi was at his best. He made three saves in the frantic final minutes and made a huge play to force a turnover by Marc Piche and pick up the groundball with a minute to play.
Becker added an empty-net goal with 25 seconds for insurance and Desiderio won the next faceoff to give possession back to the Storm. Seton Hill regained the ball with less than 15 seconds remaining and got off just one shot as time expired.
Harding and Bal each scored three goals to lead the Storm, while Johnston, Tarte and Becker scored two goals apiece to account for all of Lake Erie's scoring. Bal assisted on two goals for a five-point game. Harding and Becker also had assists.
Lipomi made seven saves while Ilse made 13 for the Griffins. Lake Erie had a 44-34 edge in shots and a 31-21 advantage in ground balls in the game.
Defensively the Storm were successful on 35-of-37 clear attempts and won 16-of-25 faceoffs. Lake Erie also committed four fewer turnovers (15-11), but the Griffins were 4-of-7 on man-opportunities which kept them in the game. LEC was just 1-of-4 with the extra man.
Mercyhurst (15-0) defeated Wheeling Jesuit University 14-3 in the other semifinal to set-up a return date with the Storm.