MACON, Ga. -- Richmond defeated both of the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season co-champions to claim the tournament championship and the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament with an 8-7 win Saturday against High Point at the Mercer University Stadium. This followed Richmond’s 14-6 win against the host Mercer on Thursday as the first-year program claimed the NCAA bid.
“I’m at a bit of a loss of words here,” Richmond head coach Dan Chemotti said. “I’m really proud of our guys and the resolve that they showed and the confidence that they played with [Saturday]. High Point is a really good team. They made life tough on us [Saturday]. I thought that both teams really battled and it was an exciting championship game. I have to give our players a lot of credit for the way they executed [Saturday].”
A-Sun freshman of the year Mitch Goldberg scored two goals for a total of five in the tournament to earn MVP honors to go with his first-team All-ASun selection.
“The offense played fast,” Goldberg said. “We were going on that the whole tournament, against Mercer especially. We knew when we got the ball we had to run around and we knew they were going to pressure us. It’s so relieving to know that all the hard work we put in is finally is coming together. Give so much credit to our coaches for giving us the opportunities at practice, at everything. They really prepared us for this game.”
Richmond (6-10) never trailed in the game, but High Point was able to tie the score on three different occasions, including four minutes into the fourth quarter. High Point reeled off seven goals in the fourth to beat the Spiders in Richmond on April 22, but this time, Richmond stayed poised to the end.
Goldberg had a behind-the-back assist to Dan Ginestro that proved to be the game-winner with 7:37 to go in regulation. Ginestro also scored twice for Richmond and has scored two game-winners this season to tie for the team lead.
The teams traded goals until Richmond scored three consecutive goals all the way to the start of the third quarter. Jean-Luc Chetner scored first two minutes in and Goldberg got on the board at the midway point of the quarter, with High Point answering both goals in the back-and-forth affair.
Ginestro’s first goal came with 4:10 to go in the first quarter and Alex Hatem added a goal at 5:52 in the second.
For just the third time this season, the Spider defense held an opponent scoreless in a quarter (the second time against HPU). The Panthers went without a goal during a stretch of 28:29 from the middle of the first to the middle of the third. During that time, the Panthers coughed up eight turnovers and Richmond freshman goalie Benny Pugh made five of his seven saves as Richmond got out to a 5-2 lead.
After HPU’s answer, sophomore Brad Burnam scored a goal to push the Spider lead back to 6-3.
The Panthers then managed three consecutive goals to tie the game before Goldberg’s assist to Ginestro, which was followed by an insurance goal by Goldberg with 3:21 remaining.
A High Point goal with 2:39 remaining was the game’s final score. Richmond midfielder Peter Moran won the resulting face-off, but the Panthers got it back, only to turn it over twice in the last two minutes without getting off a shot at the tying goal.
Midfielder Brendan Hynes and defender Ryan Dennis had six ground balls each, with Dennis forcing four turnovers.
“It’s been a journey,” Dennis said. “Our offense was amazing, they pushed the ball when they had to and they were calm when they had to. Our defense … Sean Robbins, Brendan Hynes, Tom Monzo, Benny Pugh, A.J. Lapitino, Mike Burns, all of them, I love them. I love everyone on the defensive end, everyone on the offensive end. I love this team.”
Richmond, which had only won two of the 22 face-offs in the first matchup, captured seven of the 18 this time around, including six of the last 12 of the game.
Pugh got the win as the Spiders have now won five of their past eight games.