Lehigh cruises past Bucknell to win second consecutive Patriot League title
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Lehigh jumped out to a 5-0 lead after one quarter and cruised to an 11-5 win against Bucknell to win its second consecutive Patriot League Championship on Sunday afternoon. Senior David DiMaria had two goals and three assists to finish with 10 points for the tournament and earn MVP honors. Lehigh became the first team since Navy in 2006-07 to win back-to-back Patriot League titles.
“You’re talking to a proud coach right now,” Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese said. “I’m so thrilled for our team, so thrilled for my games, thrilled for our seniors. It was a very emotional 48 hours for us. I think the key to it was our guys playing on pure emotion. They were hungry. They showed a lot of heart, a lot of guts. It had nothing to do with X’s and O’s; it was just their will to want it, their will to win.”
Matt Poillon stopped 10 of 15 shots in another stellar effort to earn all-tournament team honors. Dante Fantoni had three goals and two assists to finish with seven points on the weekend to earn a spot on the all-tournament team. Ryan Buttenbaum won seven of 13 faceoffs on Sunday and 18 of 32 for the weekend to round out the all-tournamentteam.
“The defense was good, but this was a total team effort,” Cassese said. “Our defense played great, our offense played great and we played great between the lines.”
Dan Taylor enjoyed a stellar game with three goals and two assists, scoring two of Lehigh’s first-quarter goals. The Mountain Hawks took a 5-0 lead in the title game for a second consecutive season, with Taylor getting the scoring started both times. Sunday’s game was played in front of a raucous home crowd of 1,762 at the Ulrich Sports Complex.
“This was everything that I hoped for when I signed on to become the head coach at Lehigh,” Cassese said. “To be able to play for a championship in front of our home fans, in front of our family members on our field is special to me and special to the program. I’m happy we were able to put that product on the field for everyone to see [Sunday].”
The defense was stellar once again, allowing seven goals or fewer for the eighth time in its past nine games. The Mountain Hawks extended their winning streak to seven and winning streak against Patriot League foes to 12 dating to last season.
Taylor got the scoring started at 9:46 of the first quarter, taking a feed from DiMaria to make it 1-0. Fantoni finished a man-up goal from Taylor just 1:23 later to make it 2-0 while DiMaria converted a fast-break goal from Alan Henderson for a three-goal advantage at 7:29. Taylor scored again at 3:21 before Hess beat Bucknell goalie Kyle Feeney as time expired in the first quarter for the 5-0 advantage after 15 minutes of play. All the while, Poillon was stellar between the pipes, stopping all five shots sent his way in the first, including many point-blank stops.
Bucknell finally scored after 19:28 of scoreless action as Bailey made it 5-1 on the extra man less than five minutes into the second quarter. Lehigh answered with two of the final three second-quarter goals, as DiMaria had five first-half points and the Mountain Hawks took a 7-2 lead into the locker room.
Fantoni quickly made it 8-2 just 22 seconds into the third quarter. The sides traded goals the rest of the way as Taylor and Fantoni had tallies for the Mountain Hawks, giving them a 10-4 lead after three quarters. Alex Drake made it 11-4 early in the fourth quarter, then Lehigh slowed the tempo to run clock for the majority of the fourth quarter. Bucknell scored with 1:15 remaining.
Final shots were 35-32 in favor of Lehigh while ground balls were 30-25 Mountain Hawks. Lehigh won 10 of 19 faceoffs. The Bison were 2-for-5 on the extra man while Lehigh was 1-for-2.
“It’s been our goal to get to this point all season long,” Cassese said. “Last year, I felt like our mission and our goals ended with the Patriot League championship. This year, we’re certainly focused on the Patriot League championship and happy to win it, but we do have our sights set on something a little bit higher this year. We’re excited to be in the NCAA tournament, but we’re not just happy to be there.”