SCHENECTADY — The Union men’s lacrosse team was pleased with itself at the wrong time, then the right time.
The Dutchmen made everything go their way in rolling to a 9-0 halftime lead over RPI in the Liberty League semifinals at Frank Bailey Field on Wednesday.
Comfortably ahead, they let the Engineers make a game of it in the third quarter before Union got back to business and won 13-8 to advance to the league championship game 1 p.m. Saturday at Rochester Institute of Technology, the top-ranked team in the country.
Kerry Lyne scored five goals for the 12th-ranked Dutchmen (13-2), none bigger than his fifth, a hard drive to the cage that stopped a 5-0 run by 19th-ranked RPI (12-5) and gave Union a 10-5 lead with 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
With the Engineers using an aggressive but desperate ride to force turnovers, Union goalie Jack Santilli saw an opportunity to rifle a shot the length of the field while his RPI counterpart, Kyle Botsford, was out of his net guarding an attack man.
His bomb found the middle of the net before Botsford could recover, giving Union an 11-5 lead, and the Engineers never got closer than the final score.
“We knew once we got the next goal, after they scored their fifth one, that their run was over and it was back to being our time and we’re going to take this over now,” Santilli said.
Besides clinching a spot in the Liberty League championship game, Union head coach Paul Wehrum said he believes the Dutchmen also secured an at-large bid to the 34-team Division III NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens in Rochester on Saturday.
“Two years ago, we didn’t even make the league playoffs,” he said. “I’ve been here 13 years now, and we made the playoffs 10 of the first 11 years, so that really hurt. The seniors came back with a real intention to make the NCAAs, and I think today they did.”
It was easy, until it wasn’t.
Combined with a 5-0 fourth quarter in a 17-12 win over RPI on April 17, the Dutchmen outscored the Engineers 14-0 in a span of three quarters, going up 4-0 after the first on Wednesday and 9-0 at halftime, on the strength of four goals from Lyne, a junior attack from Wellesley, Massachusetts.
RPI’s cause was not helped by the absence of leading goal scorer Owen Putman, a Shenendehowa High graduate who suffered a concussion in a first-round victory over Clarkson.
Still, the Engineers made some personnel adjustments in the second half, including replacing goalie Brian Doughty with Botsford, and got more aggressive on offense.
RPI scored three goals in a span of 1:26 early in the third, and added goals by Jason Bram and Connor Glosner to get within 9-5 with plenty of time left.
“First, it’s just about the fight of our seniors, of the team, top to bottom,” RPI head coach Scott Hackett-Dalgliesh said. “Unbelievable character, and I think it showed. That’s an easy way to roll over. Unfortunately, we just put ourselves in too big of a hole.
“We went with a quicker, stronger lineup and made a change in the goal that we thought was a better look, and getting back on the attack was the biggest thing.”
“They started putting three defensemen on our faceoff guy, which was putting the ball on the ground,” Wehrum said. “They made some adjustments, and it took us a little while to get used to it. And we relaxed a little bit. The kids were a little too happy at halftime. I’m not normally letting them be happy, but I was happy myself, so that was a little bit my fault.”
Lyne took things into his own hands, getting around a defender and diving toward the circle to beat Botsford for a 10-5 lead just before the end of the third quarter, a big momentum stopper. It was his team-leading 35th goal of the season.
“I thought they were really controlling the tempo in that third quarter and went on a big run,” Lyne said. “Sometimes, to stop it, I think the best way is to go with your gut, get to the rack and try and score. I saw an opening, I liked my matchup, went to the cage and it worked out.”
Santilli, who finished with 15 saves, kept the swing headed back in Union’s favor with his long shot from not far in front of his own cage.
“We knew that they were going to go into a couple different rides, so we were very cautious of what they were doing when they were pressing down to the poles [longstick defensemen] and let me make the decision,” he said. “Once I got up there, I was going to roll the dice and have faith in our attack to back it up, and luckily it went in.”
“Tilli did a great job reading their 10-man ride,” Lyne said. “That’s a tough thing to beat. You really have to work hard. A lot of teams will do that, gambling that you will give up that goal. If anybody was going to do it, it was him.”
RIT defeated St. Lawrence 17-13 in the other Liberty League semi. The Tigers beat Union 12-9 at Frank Bailey Field last Wednesday to close the regular season.
RPI 0 0 5 3 — 8
Union 4 5 1 3 — 13
RPI scoring: Bastarache 1-0, Urban 1-0, Glosner 1-0, McGrady 2-0, Bram 1-0, Killeen 2-1, Colucci 0-1, Cole 0-1. Union scoring: Santilli 1-0, Edmonds 2-2, Sullivan 1-0, Lyne 5-0, Frey 3-1, Connelly 0-2, Flood 0-1, Helmig 0-1, McCann 1-1, Davis 0-1.
Goaltenders: RPI, Doughty, 6 saves; Botsford, 7. Union, Santilli, 15.