College lacrosse: Quinnipiac wins MAAC championship, earns first-ever NCAA bid
HAMDEN, Conn. -- Quinnipiac started the first half with a 4-0 run and the second half with a 3-0 run as it led wire-to-wire to earn a 13-9 win over Marist and capture the 2016 MAAC Tournament Championship on Saturday afternoon at QU Lacrosse Turf Complex.
Quinnipiac's win was its eighth in a row and improves its record to 11-3 overall, while earning the first NCAA Tournament bid in program history. The Bobcats will find out their first opponent when the NCAA selection show takes place on Sunday night at 9 p.m. Marist sees its season end with a 9-7 mark.
Junior goalie Jack Brust had 13 saves to earn Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors, while junior attack Drew D'Antonio (Norwalk, Conn.) had a career-high four goals to pace the offense. Sophomore faceoff speciailst Will Vitelli, who was 19-for-19 in the regular season meeting at Marist to earn StringKing National Player of the Week honors from Inside Lacrosse, was once again dominant at the X against the Red Foxes, winning 20-of-25 with three of them leading straight to goals (picking up an assist on one of them).
A year ago, Marist captured a 16-14 win over the Bobcats in the MAAC Championship game after jumping out to a 9-1 lead early in the second quarter and holding on the rest of the way. The tables were reversed this year, as Quinnipiac exploded out of the gate for four goals in the first 6:30 of the game and led by as many as five goals (6-1) in the first quarter.
Marist came back from down 6-1 to close to within 6-5 and trailed 8-6 at the half, but the Bobcats came out of intermission with two goals in the first 16 seconds of the second half off of two Vitelli faceoff wins. Senior attack Ryan Keenan (Oshawa, Ontario) scored the first one 10 seconds into the third quarter off a pass from sophomore long stick midfielder Adam Bellamy, who had the ground ball off the faceoff (one of his nine ground balls on the day). Just six seconds later, the Bobcats found themselves up 10-6 as Vitelli won the faceoff cleanly (one of his nine ground balls on the day as well) and found D'Antonio to restore the four-goal lead.
Freshman midfielder Foster Cuomo stretched the run to 3-0 to start the second half (4-0 spanning both halves) as he whipped in an unassisted goal at the 10:50 mark to make the score 11-6. Marist scored the next two goals to pull within 11-8, but Cuomo had the highlight-reel goal of the day as he flipped a backwards over-the-shoulder shot into the upper corner off a Keenan feed with 3:22 left in the third to give Quinnipiac a 12-8 lead going into the fourth.
The final period was uneventful, which was exactly what the Bobcats wanted with a big lead. Neither team was able to find the net until D'Antonio scored his fourth of the game in transition with 2:36 to go after Brust made a point blank save . Radin answered that goal for Marist when he picked up a ground ball and scored with 1:35 to go. but the Red Foxes were unable to get closer, as Brust stopped Radin's next attempt and the Bobcats were able to get the successful clear and run out the clock.
Keenan got the Bobcats started just 25 seconds into the game when he scored on a wraparound shot from behind the net to give the Bobcats a lead they would never relinquish. Brust was tested early and often, but came up with six saves in the first quarter to keep Marist off the board. Senior midfielder Connor Meth stretched the lead to 2-0 with a man-up goal off a pass from sophomore attack James Byrns with 10:50 left in the quarter, and D'Antonio scored two goals 44 seconds apart to push the lead to 4-0 over a stunned Marist team at the 8:24 mark.
John Vigh finally broke the ice for Marist at the 5:37 mark, but exactly one minute later, sophomore attack Brian Feldman scored off a pass from junior midfielder Kevin Diehl. Vitelli then won the faceoff and nine seconds later, senior midfielder Nate Nibbelink (Hamsptead, Md.) converted on a D'Antonio feed to make the score 6-1 with 4:28 left in the opening quarter.
Marist was able to regroup with a counter-punch, though, scoring the next four goals. J.D. Recor had the first two of them, the second of which came man-up with just 9.8 seconds left in the quarter to make the score 6-3. Senior Joseph Radin, the MAAC Offensive Player of the Year, started the second quarter with a goal and Ralph Faiella added an unassisted one in transition to bring the Red Foxes all the way within one. Sophomore midfielder Ryan Corcoran stopped the bleeding with an unassisted goal and Feldman answered another Marist goal from John Vigh to make the score 8-6 going into the half.
Keenan, Feldman and Cuomo each had two goals for Quinnipiac to support the four goals from D'Antonio, with Keenan also added two assists for four points, giving him 126 in his career and moving him into fifth place in Bobcats history. Radin and John Vigh each had hat tricks for Marist in a losing cause. The Bobcats finished with a 41-16 edge in ground balls on the day, due largely to winning 20 of the 26 faceoffs.
Quinnipiac was making its third conference championship game appearance in the last six years, including two straight. The Bobcats finished as runner-up in the 2011 Northeast Conference Championship game and in last year's MAAC title game to Marist. The 2001 team was also in the MAAC Championship game, where it fell to end the best season in program history at 14-2. This year's title will give the Bobcats their first-ever NCAA Division I Tournament appearance.