PHILADELPHIA -- Within a remarkable five-minute window, Mike Messenger made sure his second season at Limestone ended just the same as his first.
|LIMESTONE 9, LE MOYNE 6|
Division II National Championship
After he and his teammates endured an uncharacteristically quiet first three quarters offensively, Messenger delivered two goals and an assist across a brilliant first 4:44 of the final period. So it was no surprise he earned Most Outstanding Player accolades as the Saints repeated as NCAA Division II Men’s Lacrosse champions on Sunday afternoon with a 9-6 victory against Le Moyne at Lincoln Financial Field.
“He's the kind of guy where I almost felt like he was waiting to explode,” said Limestone coach J.B. Clarke, whose program won its fourth national championship. “Every time I looked at him today it was like, ‘I got this coach, I got this.’ He didn't say that, but he's a big boy and he got it done.”
Messenger entered the match with a Division II-leading 51 goals and Limestone (20-1) averaged a nation-best 17.45 goals per contest, yet found itself trailing 6-5 entering the final stanza against a Le Moyne (16-3) squad seeking its second national crown in three campaigns.
Despite dominating faceoffs (13-6) and shots (44-25), the Saints only stayed within striking distance because of an incredibly stingy defense buoyed by the outstanding efforts of junior goalie Patrick Sheridan (11 saves) and senior defender Peter Papaleonti, among others.
Yet there was no sense of concern. Clarke insisted that despite his team being tied 3-3 at intermission and down a goal over a grind-it-out first 45 minutes, “I really felt like we were right where we needed to be.” The coach spoke of emanating a sense of calm so his student-athletes would follow suit, which certainly helped the Saints stay settled entering the final 15 minutes.
“We just knew that we had to stick to the game plan and focus on the end result,” junior midfielder Reid Reinholdt said.
Added Messenger: “Lacrosse is a game of runs, so we just had to get our run started.”
Messenger wasted little time. Eight seconds into the fourth quarter, he converted a Reinholdt pass into the game-tying goal. Sixty-eight seconds later, the third of his four goals gave Limestone its first lead 7-6 with 13:44 remaining.
“All year, not just myself but others too, we just play stronger in the fourth quarter,” Messenger said. “I felt when I had the ball on my stick, it was easier just coming to me. I had people like Reid here who was getting me open and the other offense was helping me out, and I was just getting the shots that were landing.”
After assisting on sophomore midfielder Colton Watkinson’s score that made it 8-6 with 10:16 left, Messenger eliminated any thought of a Le Moyne comeback with his final tally coming 2:49 before he and his teammates would celebrate their second national championship in as many years since he transferred from Division I High Point.
Limestone also won national championships in 2000 and '02, and finally won back-to-back Walnut and Bronze trophies thanks to a brilliant final stretch from his star goal scorer.
“All throughout the year we've been a second half team, a third- and fourth-quarter team,” Messenger said. “We knew to just keep pushing, keep going, and we'd get them.”