Red Storm making lacrosse noise
Also: For Cal, S&D goes for three-peat, baseball at night
When the No. 20 St. John’s men’s lacrosse team heads to South Bend, Ind., for a matchup with top-ranked Notre Dame on Saturday, the Red Storm knows it will be a battle, but they are up for the challenge.
St. John's (6-2) is off to its best start to a season since the program was reinstated in 2005. Last week, St. John’s stunned then-No. 7 Hofstra for its third victory against a ranked opponent this season, and carries a three-game winning streak into the contest against the Irish, which will be played at Arlotta Stadium at 1 p.m. ET.
“They remain unfazed by the success they’ve had,” St. John’s head coach Jason Miller said. “They come to work hard every day and I think the results they’re having on the field are because of that.”
The two squads most recently met in last year’s Big East tournament semifinals, and the Red Storm shocked the then-No. 2 Irish 8-7 for a victory against the highest-ranked opponent in program history.
Miller and offensive coordinator Dan Paccione point to a 10-7 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend in 2011 as a turning point for the program.
“Our trip to South Bend two years ago was where we realized for us to be our best offensively the ball needed to go through Kieran [McCardle] and Kevin Cernuto and that generally good things happen to us the more those guys are involved,” Miller said. “At the time, those guys were freshmen but that has turned into the foundation of what we’re doing now.”
McCardle currently leads the nation with 7.13 points per game, and tops the team with 23 goals and 34 assists. Cernuto follows with 19 goals and nine assists, while Colin Keegan has contributed 16 goals to the Red Storm’s campaign. Last week against Robert Morris, McArdle tallied 13 points in a 17-11 victory -- the most points by any Division I player since the start of the 2010 season. In last year’s Big East tournament game against the Irish, McArdle notched three goals and dished out four assists.
“Those guys have continued to get better,” Miller said. “Kieran, especially, is having a phenomenal season statistically, but in a lot of ways it is Kevin’s ability to play off him that makes him as dangerous as he is. I think when the both of them are playing well, and Colin Keegan is playing well inside we present matchup problems for teams.”
But while the Red Storm offensive is clicking, Miller knows Notre Dame will be ready to play no matter who it is facing.
“[Notre Dame] is pretty tough,” Miller said. “Statistically, they’re not an imposing group. They don’t score a ton of goals -- but they don’t give up very many. When you look at them statistically you come out of it scratching your head a bit because they are 6-1 against five top-10 teams, but they don’t lead in many categories other than defensively.”
The game has huge implications, not just nationally, but because it is a Big East contest. The Red Storm are 1-1 in league play and needs to get at least three or four wins to lock up a conference tournament bid.
“It is a monumental task to go to South Bend and win there,” Miller said. “Throughout the last few years they are pretty tough to beat at home. Forget rankings and all that other stuff, we’re going to have our hands full trying to beat those guys.”
• The No. 14 Oklahoma baseball team is off to its best start through 27 games since 2010 with a 23-4 record, and is currently riding an 11-game winning streak. The Sooners are led by designated hitter Matt Oberste, who has hit in 27 consecutive games dating to the 2012 season. Against Oral Roberts on Tuesday, Oberste matched the school hitting streak record of 27 held by Marty Neff (1991). He also has reached base safely in 34 consecutive games dating to last season, and entered the week ranked second in the nation with a .471 batting average. Nineteen of his nation-leading 48 hits have been for extra bases, and he has contributed 33 RBIs. Oberste will look to take sole possession of the school hitting streak mark when the Sooners play host to Kansas for a three-game Big 12 series beginning Thursday.
• Ashland and Dowling will meet in the Division II women’s basketball national title game in San Antonio on Friday as both teams seek their first NCAA championship. Ashland returns to the title game for the second consecutive year. Last season, the Eagles fell to Shaw in overtime. Senior Kari Daugherty, who ranks in the top three nationally in points and rebounds per game, contributed 24 points and 16 rebounds in the Eagles’ defeat of Augustana on Wednesday. She has played in 11 NCAA tournament games, and notched a double-double every time. Dowling topped Colorado Mesa in the semifinals to advance to its first national title game appearance behind a balanced scoring attack. The game can be viewed live on the CBS Sports Network at 8 p.m. ET.
• A rematch of last year’s Division I championship game will highlight the women’s lacrosse schedule this weekend as No. 5 Syracuse visits No. 4 Northwestern at 2 p.m. ET Saturday. This past May, the two squads met in Stony Brook, N.Y., and Northwestern defeated the Orange 8-6, as the Wildcats claimed their seventh national title. The game will be aired live on the Big Ten Network. Northwestern narrowly escaped with a 9-8 victory against Ohio State on Wednesday, while Syracuse downed Boston College 17-12 the same night to stretch its winning streak to three games.
• The No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball team will look to gain some ground in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings this weekend when the Bruins head to UC San Diego on Friday and No. 2 UC Irvine on Saturday. The Bruins have dropped three consecutive matches to the Anteaters, the defending NCAA champions, including two five-set matches this season. UC Irvine topped the Bruins at the UC Santa Barbara Asics Invitational on Jan. 6 and at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 29.
• Southeastern Conference Gymnast of the Year Rheagan Courville will look to spark No. 2 seed LSU to a top-two finish in the NCAA Columbus (Ohio) Regional as it vies for a second consecutive trip to the NCAA championships, which will be held in Los Angeles on April 19-21. Courville is coming off a career night at the SEC championships in which she claimed the all-around, vault and beam titles. She will be helped by Lloiminicia Hall, who recently won her second consecutive SEC floor title, and is tied with Michigan’s Joanna Sampson with a 9.950 Regional Qualifying Score to lead the nation in the event. The top seed in the Columbus Regional is UCLA, which is ahead of LSU in the national rankings by just two-hundredths of a point. Last season, UCLA won its regional in Fayetteville, Ark., and went on to place third at the NCAA championships. The Bruins have won a total of 20 NCAA regional titles, including three in a row. The last time LSU won an NCAA regional was in 2009, also when the Tigers competed in Columbus. For complete regional championship selections, click here.
• The California men’s swimming and diving team will be looking to three-peat at the NCAA championships in Indianapolis beginning Thursday; if successful, Cal would become the first program to win three consecutive national team titles since Auburn won five in a row from 2003-07. The Bears finished the dual meet season undefeated, and then went on to snap Stanford’s streak of 31 consecutive conference titles at the Pac-12 championships earlier this month. Twelve members of last year’s national championship squad return to the pool for Cal, including senior Tom Shields, a nine-time national champion who won both the 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter backstroke races and was the NCAA Swimmer of the Meet last season. Shields is seeded first in the 100 butterfly (44.92 seconds), second in the 200 butterfly (1 minute, 41.23 seconds) and ninth in the 100 backstroke (46.12) after winning all three of those events at the 2013 Pac-12 meet.
• The No. 8 St. Cloud baseball team is rolling, heading into a four-game series at Upper Iowa on Friday with an eight-game winning streak. A big reason for the Huskies’ success has been their pitching. St. Cloud State ranks second in Division II with a 1.40 ERA, and right-hander Scott Lieser has set the pace.
Lieser, a senior captain, is 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. On March 22, Lieser tossed the third no-hitter of his career in a 10-0 victory against Sioux Falls in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action. His first came in the 2011 season against Northern State and his second against Minnesota-Crookston last season.
"On the mound he has been dominant -- he is a strike-throwing machine and also has a very live fastball,” St. Cloud State head coach Pat Dolan said. “To have three no-no's in three years is amazing!"
• After narrowly missing her fifth consecutive Division III title in the high jump at the indoor track and field championships earlier this month, Rose-Hulman’s Elizabeth Evans opened her outdoor campaign with a bang, tying a 14-year-old DIII outdoor record with a clearance of 5-11 1/4 (1.81m) at the Rose-Hulman Early Bird last weekend. A four-time national champion, Evans ranks fifth among all divisions in the event this season and will be back in competition at the Purdue Invitational on Saturday.
• The Houston Baptist softball team has a pair of sisters who are sizzling at the plate this season. Junior Lauren Schwirtlich and freshman Kirsten Schwirtlich have been on fire offensively for the Huskies. Lauren, the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder, is riding a 12-game hitting streak and ranks second in Division I softball with a .529 batting average; Kirsten, a left fielder batting in the three-hole, tops the nation with 1.86 RBIs per game and boasts a .391 batting average. Lauren also ranks in the top 10 nationally for runs per game (sixth at 1.24), triples (first at 0.24) and on-base percentage (fourth at .597). The Huskies head to Nicholls State for a three-game Southland Conference series beginning Thursday.
• After a century of home day games for the California baseball program, let there be light. The Golden Bears will be playing their first game under the lights at Evans Diamond on Thursday to open a Pac-12 series against USC. Eight 90-foot light poles were installed at the field, allowing the Bears to finally play home games at night.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy