SCHENECTADY — RIT went on a little run there in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
It was enough to extend a very long run.
The Tigers scored four unanswered goals in a span of 4:35 midway through the fourth quarter to wrestle control of the game away from Union, and RIT held on for a 12-10 victory at Frank Bailey Field to close the Liberty League regular season for both teams.
They most likely will meet again soon — Wednesday, to be exact — and much more will be at stake then, as the league semifinals begin.
Hanging over the matchup is years of futility for Union against RIT. The Dutchmen are 3-23 all-time against the Tigers, including 18 straight losses dating back to 2012.
That was just background noise on Saturday, though, for a Union team that stayed with the No. 1 team in the country in Division III all the way and is hungry for another crack at them.
“Ithaca [loss on April 21] was a huge learning experience for us, and I think we’re going to come out of this game not feeling great, but I think when we get back to practice on Monday, we’re going to be fired up, we’re going to clean some things up and be ready to go for Wednesday,” senior Hayden Frey said.
Union (4-2 LL, 5-2 overall) actually has a scenario in play that would create a rematch with Ithaca (3-2 LL) in the semifinals instead of RIT (4-0, 8-0), but it would require 1-3 Vassar to come up with a big upset over Ithaca in their regular-season finale on Sunday.
Ithaca just needs to win that game to join Union at 4-2 and earn a tiebreaker (based on Ithaca’s 11-10 win over the Dutchmen) for the No. 3 seed and a semifinal game against St. Lawrence, dropping Union to No. 4.
“This was Senior Day, and I think our seniors led us fantastic,” Union head coach Derek Witheford said. “It’s another shot [at RIT] for them, and they’re not shying away from another opportunity.”
Among the seniors was Frey, who broke out with a four-goal performance, including one that got the Dutchmen within 11-9 with 4:02 left in the game.
Forty-one seconds later, Frey assisted on a goal by Brian Davis to get it to 11-10 with 3:21 left, but the Tigers made the plays they needed to in the closing minutes to pull out the win.
Union won the faceoff after Davis’ goal, but Peter Burnes coughed up the ball looking for a scoring opportunity near the net, and that led to a low left-handed whip shot by RIT’s Ryan Rosenblum with 1:29 left.
Union failed to win the faceoff, and the Tigers ran out the clock.
“We had some costly turnovers at the end of the game,” Witheford said.
“Coach Witherford said before the game, ‘They’re going to go on runs, and we’re going to go on runs, too. It’s how we weather the storm,'” Frey said. “They’re a good team. They’re going to score goals. We said that in practice all week. They’re going to score some really good goals when we play really good defense, and there’s nothing we can do, when they put the ball in the corner.
“We went up 8-5 and we were feeling pretty good, and then they came back. It’s a game of runs. It’s about limiting their runs and extending ours, and we came up a little short today.”
Frey said the team is confident they can tighten up some of the details needed to beat a team like RIT in the next few days.
For one thing, the Dutchmen spent much of the first half in the penalty box, and although the game was tied 5-5 at halftime, giving the Tigers multiple man-up advantages is not a recipe for success.
“I think it’s just playing a little bit smarter,” he said. “They’re such a high-caliber team that we don’t have to play a perfect game, but we’ve got to do the little things perfect. Limit turnovers, capitalize on our shots, stay out of the penalty box. We were close today, but did a few things that we need to clean up.”
“We don’t have to play perfect,” Witheford said. “No one’s perfect. We’ve got to play a little more efficiently, get less penalties and face-off a little better.”
RIT 3 2 2 5 — 12
Union 2 3 3 2 — 10
RIT scoring: Sundown 0-1, Commandant 1-2, Tait 3-0, Montemorano 1-0, Bell 1-1, Barnable 0-1, Wiechers 2-0, Angus 1-0, Rosenblum 2-0, Hollinger 1-0. Union scoring: Burnes 2-2, Davis 1-1, Flood 1-2, Frey 4-2, McCann 1-0, Kip 1-0, Gourdeau 0-1. Goalies: RIT, Hare, 9 saves. Union, Donahue, 15 saves; Karaska, 0 saves.