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April 26, 2009

LEWISBURG, Pa.--Junior attackman Brendan Connors scored three goals and assisted on another, while senior goalie and tournament MVP Tommy Phelan came up with 10 saves to lead No. 3 seed Navy (11-4) to a 9-8 upset of No. 1 seed Bucknell (9-7) in front of 3,180 fans at Christy Mathewson Stadium in the Patriot League Championship Game. With the win, Navy advances to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth-straight year.

"We have won five Patriot League Championships and they have all been very special," said Navy head coach Richie Meade. "This one was a little bit more meaninful after losing last year. Bucknell and Colgate are two very good teams and this league as a whole has gotten much more competitive."

The game was tied at seven late in the fourth quarter when extra-man specialist Evan Sullivan scored on a rocket shot from 10 yards out on the left wing to give Navy an 8-7 lead with three minutes remaining. It was Sullivan's seventh extra-man goal of the year.

Bucknell's John Scally won the ensuing faceoff, but the ball was knocked loose and rolled 25 yards right down the middle of the field past numerous Bucknell players and found the back of the net to give Navy what would prove to be the game-winning goal. The goal was scored as a team goal for Navy since the ball was never shot.

"Robby Battle and Matt Bitter were both fighting Scally for possession and one of them checked the ball out of his stick," said Connors. "It was a great hustle play."

Bucknell's Joe Mele would cut the lead to 9-8 with 1:10 left on his 28th goal of the year off an assist from Austin Winter. The Bison would win the faceoff, but Zack Schroeder caused a turnover and the ground ball was picked up by Tom Mansfield. Navy failed to clear the ball and it was given back to Bucknell with 46 seconds left.

Bucknell's Charlie Streep's shot was denied by Phelan with 24 seconds left and Navy's Geoff Leone picked up the loose ball. Navy was able to burn 17 seconds off the clock before turning it back over to Bucknell at their own end of the field with seven seconds left. Tom Izard's desperation pass with seven seconds left sailed 50 yards out of bound and Navy had secured it's fifth Patriot League Tournament Championship in six years.

"I'm really pleased for this team." Said Meade. "When we lost to Colgate in March I sat down and thought the best we could finish was 12-3, not many people thought we could get there. While we ended up 11-4, we fought back and won the tournament and it was because of great leadership."

Navy's defense was superb once again, holding Bucknell scoreless for more than 24 minutes from the end of the second quarter until midway through the fourth quarter. During the scoreless drought, the Mids went from trailing 5-4 to taking a 7-5 lead. The Navy defense forced 21 Bucknell turnovers, while the Mids won the ground ball battle 36-25.

Faceoff specialist Robby Battle led the Mids with seven ground balls, while Andy Tormey came up with five and Geoff Leone added four. Tormey led the Mids with five caused turnovers, while Schroeder had four.

"I think a telling statistic was our 36-25 advantage on ground balls," said Meade. "Additionally, we cleared the ball 20 out of 24 times. Both of those mean we had a lot more possessions than they did. Clearing is something you have to do to beat a team like Bucknell."

Connors, Tormey, Leone and Joe Lennon joined Phelan on the Patriot League All-Tournament Team.

Navy will take a week off to prepare for final exams, before getting ready for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Mids will play on either Saturday, May 10 or Sunday, May 11. The tournament pairings will be announced on Sunday, May 4 at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.