Stevenson's fourth-quarter run answers RIT, gives Mustangs first championship
PHILADELPHIA -- If you blinked during the first 49 minutes of the Division III Men's Lacrosse Championship final, you probably missed a half-dozen goals.
At the end of the offensive frenzy, it was Stevenson which beat RIT 16-14 on Sunday in front of 22,511 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Both programs were making their first appearances in the NCAA championship game.
“The character is unbelievable,” Stevenson head coach Paul Cantabene said. “These guys show up every day, come out to practice to get this job done and just a crazy, crazy game. It’s unbelievable and it’s a testament to them and their character of what they were able to do [Sunday], and I thank them.
“I thought we played to win the game, we didn’t play to lose the game. At 13-10 when things weren’t really looking good for us in the fourth quarter, I thought they really … in the huddle Pat Candon was coming to me, ‘Coach, don’t worry, we’re going to get this.’ Mike Crowe came up to me, ‘Coach, don’t worry, we’re going to get this, it’s in our hands, we can handle it.’ ”
Stevenson (22-2) opened the game with a 5-0 run. RIT responded with a solid second quarter and trailed 9-6 at intermission.
Then it just got weird in a penalty-filled, back-and-forth afternoon of lacrosse.
RIT dominated the third quarter, winning seven of nine faceoffs and outscoring Stevenson 7-1 to take a 13-10 advantage into the final stanza. Stevenson responded with five goals in the opening 3 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, the final one a sweet no-look from the left wing by Candon that gave the Mustangs a 15-13 lead.
It looked like the first one to 20 might be crowned DIII champion.
However, during the final 11 minutes the two teams combined for just two goals. Stevenson goalie Dmitri Pecunes finished with 15 saves in a game that saw the two squads combine for 85 shots, 17 penalties and a wild roller-coaster ride to boot.
“[RIT] definitely did make a great run in the third quarter after halftime and we knew that was going to happen,” Stevenson's Mark Pannenton said. “We knew that both teams were going to go on their own separate runs here in the game and this game was definitely up and down. I think we just rallied up and really showed some heart there in the fourth quarter and just showed how much we wanted this one [Sunday].”
Pannenton, who scored five goals in the game, was named DIII’s Most Outstanding Player. He finished with 62 goals in 2013, 16 of them in five NCAA tournament games. Peter Green scored three goals with Nick Rossi scoring twice and assisting on two others.
RIT’s Kyle Aquin tied a DIII championship game record with seven goals. He finished the season with 65 goals. Eddie Kiesa scored twice and had four assists.
“Lacrosse is a game of runs,” Aquin said. “Unfortunately they had the last run and they pulled out with the win.”
Aquin’s fourth goal of the game to start the second half cut the Stevenson lead to 9-7. Kiesa’s unassisted finish made it 9-8. The game was tied at the 10:28 mark on a man-up goal by Aquin after some tic-tac-toe passing around the goal. RIT took the lead after a ground-ball pick-up and rush by Kiesa. RIT’s ninth and 10th goals came during a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the Mustangs.
Momentum shifted back to the Mustangs’ favor moments later.
Pannenton’s fourth of the game made it 10-10 with 5:57 left in the third. RIT responded immediately with a fast-break goal by Aquin, his sixth of the day. Aquin’s seventh with 1:07 left in the third made it 13-10.
As if they were shot out a cannon, the Mustangs opened the final period with a flurry.
Michael Crowe’s unassisted tally 1:02 into the fourth started the run. Pannenton scored off a pass from Tyler Reid 28 seconds later. Rossi’s unassisted score tied it at 13. Glen Tompkins scored 29 seconds later and Candon’s 22nd of the season concluded the run that finished with Stevenson on top, 15-13, with 11:31 remaining.
RIT’s Alec Sulesky momentarily wrestled momentum back for the Tigers at the 10:13 mark, but RIT could not find a way to score again. Rossi’s unassisted goal with 5:07 left fashioned the final score.
“When we started the fourth quarter there, I just was trying to tell everyone and Coach was trying to tell everyone to stay calm,” Rossi said. “We had been in that situation before, and toward the end of the year we kind of excelled in those situations, keeping our composure and making plays when we needed to make plays, and that’s something Coach has stressed all year and I thought we did that again [Sunday].”
“We’re comfortable in that sort of game,” RIT head coach Jake Coon said. “It’s not something that, we’re not going to change anything at this point in the year. We’re going to continue to play how we want to play. We like that up-tempo style of play.
“Like these guys had said, it was a game of runs. More than a lot of games I’ve seen, it was back and forth all day, momentum shifts. Unfortunately, on defense, we came out slow. We came out a little starry-eyed, I guess, and that was a big concern of mine, and we kind of paid for it in the beginning.
“In the end I thought a few bounces went their way, and that’s the difference.”
Stevenson beat 10-time DIII champion Salisbury in the semifinals. Three teams from the state of Maryland have now won DIII titles – Salisbury, Washington College and Stevenson.