April 11, 2009

Courtesy of Navy Athletics

BALTIMORE, Md. —  Smartlink Player of the Game Tommy Phelan (Towson, Md.) helped stymie the Army attack with a career-high tying 16-save effort, while junior attackman Brendan Connors (Bellmore, N.Y.) scored three goals and added a pair of assists to help lead the Navy men’s lacrosse team (9-3, 4-2 Patriot League) to an 8-4 victory over Army (5-7, 1-5 PL) Saturday afternoon in the opening contest of the Day of Rivals event played at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. 

Navy has now won 14 of the last 15 contests in the series, including 11 of the last 12 Star Games.  With better than 20,000 fans in attendance, Saturday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium marked just the second neutral site meeting between the two programs and the first time the Star Game has been contested on neutral ground.

“I am enormously grateful to have won this game,” said Navy’s Richie Meade, who owns a 14-3 record against Army since taking over the coaching duties in 1995.  “It’s been a very long year for us and for me personally after having lost to Army last year.  Not a day passed that I did not think about that game.  It was a game that Army deserved to win because they were able to accomplish all of the intangibles and we were unable to match them.  This year, I think we were that team.”

The Mids’ defense, ranked No. 4 in the country, surrendered just four goals in the win, holding Army to its lowest goal output since April 4, 2008, when Bucknell defeated the Black Knights, 7-4, in Lewisburg, Pa.  Phelan played a huge role in what marked his third straight game of making 15 or more saves.

“Our defense has been in a groove the last few weeks,” added Meade.  “Inserting Tommy Phelan into the lineup has given us a lot of maturity, as well as stability.  He played an outstanding game for us.”

“Last year was disappointing for me personally because I got to thinking that I was the only Navy goalkeeper to have lost to Army in the last decade,” said Phelan, who was named last week’s Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week after making a career-high 16 saves against Maryland.  “I got a chance to redeem myself and also help lead my teammates to a victory.  While I certainly prepared throughout the week like it was Army, once I got into the game, I put it out of my head and played like it was any other team.  Last year, I think I got a little too excited, too emotional.  So I just wanted to go into the game relaxed.”

Army put the first goal of the game on the scoreboard when senior middie Kevin LoRusso took a pass from Tyler Oates, tucking in an extra-man score at 11:10 in the opening quarter for the Black Knights.  It was Army’s only man-up goal on four opportunities on the day, while it was just the fifth goal Navy’s top-ranked man-up defense has surrendered this spring.

The Mids evened the game at one apiece when Connors fed senior defensive midfielder Geoff Leone (Massapequa, N.Y.), who punched in the goal on the crease.  The Leone goal helped trigger a 4-0 run by the Mids, including three goals in less than a minute.

Thirty-eight seconds elapsed before junior midfielder Joe Lennon (Westminster, Md.) sent a skip-pass to Navy’s go-to player on extra-man, junior Evan Sullivan (Westfield, N.J.), who fired in a seven-yarder to give the Midshipmen a lead they would not relinquish.

Just 16 seconds later, Phelan intercepted an Army pass and sent his outlet pass to mid-field where senior defensive middie Bobby Lennon (Westminster, Md.) awaited the ball.  Lennon sprinted to the goal where he powered his shot past Army keeper Tom Palesky for his second marker of the year.

Navy capped off its run when Bobby Lennon poke-checked the ball away from the Black Knights at the top of the offensive box.  Lennon picked up the loose ball and found second-year attackman Andy Warner (Corning, N.Y.) who saw Connors stationed on the crease.  Connors face-dodged the keeper before putting away his first of three goals in the contest.

After more than 23 minutes of scoreless action by Army, the Black Knights scored the only goal of the quarter when Jason Peyer picked up a loose ball on the right side of the goal and waltzed past Bobby Lennon to trim Navy’s lead to 4-2 heading into the half.

It took Navy less than two minutes into the second half before stretching its lead to three when Joe Lennon ran from left to right before sending a bouncer past Palesky.

Army answered a short time later when LoRusso scored his second of the day, racing past Leone who attempted a trail check, but could not make contact with LoRusso’s stick.  Instead, LoRusso’s shot was a worm-burner that Phelan was unable to stop.  It was one of just a handful of shots that would get by Phelan, as the senior stopped eight of the nine shots the Black Knights put on goal in the third.

With just four seconds left in the third period, Patrick Moran (Annapolis, Md.) took a Connors pass and managed to thread his shot between Palesky’s right thigh and the inside of the post to put the Mids back up by three.

Connors went on to score the final two goals of the game for the Mids at 11:16 and 5:03 to help seal the victory for Navy.

Once again, Navy put together a balanced offensive attack that featured six different scorers.  The Mids’ first six goals were scored by six different players, as Connors was the lone Navy player who turned in multiple goals in the win.  Five of the six scored their first career goals against the Black Knights, as only Joe Lennon had previously scored against Army.

The Mids played without their leading scorer, Tim Paul, who suffered a sprained ankle just minutes into the second half of their 10-4 win over nationally-ranked Maryland a week ago.  Paul stood on the sidelines in team sweats.

“Tim would have done anything to play in this game, so all of the offensive players came together and dedicated the game to Tim.”

Meanwhile, the win secured a Patriot League playoff spot for Navy, as the 4-2 Midshipmen will be the No. 3 seed in the tournament set for April 24 and 26 at a site yet to be determined.  Colgate and Bucknell have identical 4-0 conference records with each having a pair of games to play.

“The Patriot League is so much better today than six years ago when we joined the league,” said Meade.  “There are some great young coaches in this league and the dedication to the sport is starting to spread amongst the schools.”

Navy will be back in action next Saturday where it will look to snap a 35-game losing streak against the ninth-ranked Johns Hopkins Blue Jays.  Action is set for 2:00 pm at Homewood Field and will be televised live by ESPNU and locally by WMAR (Ch. 2).