LEWISBURG, Pa. — Bucknell won its first Southern Championship title Sunday against sixth-seeded Mercyhurst by a 9-4 score. The Bison opened up scoring with a 3-0 lead in the first quarter on three six-on-five goals and never trailed as they won their first conference crown since 1985.
Stefan Aleksic, Julian Colina and Brian Barron scored two goals apiece for Bucknell (15-13), which entered the three-day tournament as the fourth seed and proceeded to post a 4-0 record. The Bison defeated fifth-seeded George Washington, ninth-seeded Washington & Jefferson and top-seeded Navy to advance to Sunday’s championship game.
Mercyhurst (22-5) made a Cinderella run through the tournament as it advanced to the Southern Championships title game for the first time in program history. The Lakers upset third-seeded Johns Hopkins and second-seeded Princeton en route to their matchup with Bucknell.
The Bison were successful in man-up situations as they were 4-for-6 overall, including 3-for-3 in the first quarter. Additionally, Brian Barron converted a five-meter penalty shot in the final minutes of the fourth quarter that gave Bucknell its final five-goal margin of victory.
Mercyhurst was 0-for-2 in man-up situations and Bison goalie Matt Napleton stopped a pair of penalty shots as the four goals Bucknell yielded were the second-fewest it has given up this year. Napleton finished with 14 saves in the contest to push his season total to 302, which ranks third on the program’s single-season list.
The final five-goal margin for the Bison matched their largest of the game. They also led 7-2 early in the third period and 8-3 after a six-on-five goal by Colina less than two minutes into the quarter.
Barron was a standout player for Bucknell throughout the tournament. The senior co-captain finished the weekend with 13 goals and 11 assists, including the game-winning goal in Friday night’s overtime win against George Washington.
Bucknell’s previous best finish at the Southern Championships was second place, most recently in 2010. The Bison’s last conference title was the Mid-Atlantic League crown in 1985.
“This championship means what we’ve been doing so far is working,” second-year Bucknell head coach John McBride said. “We’re learning how to play together. We had to grind through four hard games [in the tournament] to pull out a championship and are developing a winning attitude.
“It’s a huge momentum boost to be able to be on the winning side coming out of this weekend’s championship. We still have a lot of work to do, though. Right now we have one game on our mind and that is MIT and we are going to spend the next two weeks preparing for them. After that, we’ll focus on the next game.”
Thanks to its top-four finish this weekend, Bucknell earned a spot in the Eastern Championship in two weeks at Princeton. As the top seed from the Southern Division, the Bison will take on MIT, the fourth-place team from the Northern Division, in their first game at the Eastern Championship. This will be Bucknell’s 13th consecutive trip to Easterns.