HEMPSTEAD — There were so many chances to fade, so many opportunities to crash.
The University at Albany men’s lacrosse team never succumbed to any of them.
Instead, the Great Danes punched their program’s first ticket to the sport’s championship weekend with a thrilling 15-13 win Saturday against Denver in a star-studded matchup.
“It was an unbelievable game,” UAlbany head coach Scott Marr said. “They came back every time we thought we were ahead. They’d storm back and we’d pull ahead again. They never quit — and neither did we.”
FINAL: UAlbany 15, Denver 13#DaneTrain off to its first championship weekend #NCAALAX pic.twitter.com/EmdQk8lqRR
— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) May 19, 2018
Five separate times, UAlbany built an advantage of at least three goals in its fifth trip to the NCAA quarterfinals, this one coming at James M. Shuart Stadium. But the Great Danes never could fully shake Denver, not until a late-game 3-0 run pushed UAlbany’s lead to 15-11 with 2:08 to go.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” UAlbany senior Connor Fields said of the program’s earning its first trip to the national semifinals. “We worked so hard all season to get to this point where we’re at now. Just to get over this hump means a lot for our university and it comes back to our alumni, too. They all worked hard and they were here supporting us today. I think it’s a really exciting feeling for everyone.”
UAlbany will play Yale in next Saturday’s national semifinals at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Those teams met during the regular season, a game Yale won 14-6.
While the overall matchup between No. 2 UAlbany (16-2) and Denver (13-4) lived up to the billing, so did the much-hyped matchup between the team’s faceoff specialists. UAlbany sophomore TD Ierlan and Denver senior Trevor Baptiste split the game’s 30 faceoffs, each winning 15.
“We just battled out there,” said Baptiste, who won more faceoffs during his college career than anyone in NCAA history.
“I was just honored to go up against him,” said Ierlan, who will continue next weekend what is the greatest statistical individual season for a faceoff specialist.
UAlbany started quick against Denver, pushing to a 3-0 lead in the opening minutes as Ierlan won the first four faceoffs. Denver and Baptiste responded, though, and took a 5-4 lead with 9:37 left in the first half.
But the Great Danes got into halftime with a 7-5 lead after freshman Tehoka Nanticoke capped a half-ending 3-0 run with a goal as time expired in the second quarter.
“It seemed like every time we got close,” Tierney said, “they’d answer with a goal or two.”
That continued in the second half, too. Denver tied the game at 9, but UAlbany answered with a three-goal run that left the Great Danes up 12-9 with 12:30 to go after a diving goal from sophomore Jakob Patterson after Fields forced a turnover. Denver answered back with two scores, but UAlbany put together its decisive 3-0 run from there to go ahead 15-11 with 2:08 to go.
“Our guys had no doubt in their minds that we were going to come out with a victory today,” Marr said.
Jakob Patterson cleaning up the trash!#NCAALAX Q4 | DENVER 9 | ALBANY 12 pic.twitter.com/tnLt1IEh3h
— NCAA Lacrosse (@NCAALAX) May 19, 2018
Denver scored twice in the final minute, but Ierlan won his final faceoff of the day with approximately a half-minute to go. From there, UAlbany played keep-away for a bit before the celebration started of the biggest win in program history.
“This,” Nanticoke said of the win, “is the reason I came here.”
Nanticoke was one of four Great Danes — along with junior Sean Eccles, senior Kyle McClancy and Patterson — to score three goals in the win, while Fields had a team-high three assists. Senior Justin Reh added two goals and two assists, and twin brother Troy Reh added a goal.
UAlbany was 0-4 in national quarterfinals before winning Saturday. Marr said that winless history couldn’t sway this year’s group from finding its way to next weekend’s action.
“They believed in each other,” Marr said, “and they believed in themselves.”
And they’re not done yet.
Making it to a national semifinal was a goal this season for the Great Danes, but not their final one.
That final goal is to win a national championship, which the Great Danes will need another two postseason wins next weekend to achieve.
“We’re halfway there,” Marr said.
Denver 2 3 4 4 — 13
UAlbany 4 3 4 4 — 15
Denver scoring: McCaffrey 2-0, Walker 1-0, Jackson 4-0, Reid 3-0, Sullivan 1-1, Baptiste 1-0, Logan 0-1, Donahue 0-1, Runberg 0-2, Marano 1-2.
UAlbany scoring: Nanticoke 3-0, Fields 0-3, J. Reh 2-2, Patterson 3-1, S. Eccles 3-1, McClancy 3-2, T. Reh 1-0.
Goalies: Denver, Ready, 10 saves. UAlbany, Colarusso, 7 saves.
Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.
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Categories: College Sports, Sports