Fast starts have been hard to come by for the UAlbany men’s lacrosse team this season.
Head coach Scott Marr has even taken it down to the granular level of pre-game music, telling his players to shed the earbuds and headphones to get more in tune with their teammates.
He got what he wanted on Thursday, and also what the Great Danes needed at the end, as UAlbany scored two goals in the final 2:27 to beat UMBC 14-12 in the semifinals of the America East tournament in Catonsville, Maryland.
No. 4-seeded UAlbany (8-4) will take on Vermont at 10 a.m. Saturday (ESPNU) for the AE championships and a berth in the NCAA tournament, after the Catamounts beat Stony Brook 10-7 in the other semifinal.
The Great Danes roared out to a 7-1 lead before the game was out of the first quarter, then broke a 12-12 tie in the final minutes of the game on Corey Yunker’s goal assisted by Ron John and John’s goal with 1:13 left to eliminate No. 1 seed UMBC (8-3).
“Senior leadership stepped up,” post-grad attack Jakob Patterson said. “We’ve been in this position before, we’ve played in championships before, we’ve been to the Final Four, so we had senior leadership, like Ron John, who came in and scored a big assist and then a big goal, which kept us in the lead and got us the ‘W.'”
“We made key plays at key times,” Marr said. “We got ourselves in the hole in that second quarter, but we didn’t stop playing and had faith in each other.
“Let’s just play 30 minutes [in the second half]. We still had a two-goal lead, so it’s not like we were behind. Just had to bear down and make plays in the second half.”
Six different players scored during UAlbany’s 7-1 run at the start, including two from Graydon Hogg, who finished with three goals and also made a crucial defensive play to set up Yunker’s game-winner.
Patterson and Hogg scored back-to-back off long, patient possessions for the 7-1 lead with 1:21 left in the first quarter.
“We’re a little stagnant at the start, usually,” Patterson said. “Today, we were moving the ball, flying around, which put UMBC in tough positions, and we took advantage of them.”
“When we were down 7-1, we had a timeout, and coach [Ryan] Moran told us, ‘We still have to play 52 minutes left in this game,'” UMBC junior midfielder Brandon Galloway said. “I don’t think anyone was getting too worried, since it was early on in the game, and we know what we’re capable of.”
Galloway was a big part of the comeback, scoring five goals, including two bracketing the first quarter intermission to cut it to 7-4.
After scoring seven goals in the first quarter, UAlbany was blanked in the second and didn’t find the back of the net again until John’s goal early in the third to give the Great Danes an 8-5 lead.
The Retrievers got back in it in part by outplaying UAlbany 12-2 on ground balls in the second quarter.
“Give UMBC a lot of credit, they were down 7-1 and really turned this thing into a game,” Marr said. “This is what semifinal and championship games are all about.”
“Every huddle, we were like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to keep chipping away,'” Moran said. “And for the duration of the game we fought hard, then put ourselves in really good position at 12-12.”
A quick burst of goals from Hogg, Patterson and Yunker in a span of 1:10 gave UAlbany an 11-7 lead with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
Galloway got one back before the quarter break, and Nick Dupuis’ fourth goal of the game tied it at 11-11 for UMBC with 9:52 left in the fourth.
The Retrievers had two chances to go ahead, but UAlbany goalie Liam Donnelly stuffed a Ryan Frawley scoring attempt from in close, then made a kick save on Steven Zichelli. That led to Kyle Casey’s only goal of the game, off a designed play that the Great Danes worked on during the practice week, as he cut hard to the net and scored off a pass from Peter Salit.
Galloway answered 1:24 later to tie it at 12-12.
After a UMBC turnover, UAlbany called timeout with 3:59 left.
“Just take a deep breath,” Hogg said. “Don’t try and be a hero, just hit singles, and we did that and came out with the ‘W.'”
The closing sequence began with a 10-man ride that put Hogg in position to check a defenseman deep in UMBC territory, and the push call gave the Great Danes the ball and led to Yunker’s overhand quick-stick off a feed from John with 2:27 left.
Regan Endres, who was 13-for-16 on faceoffs in the second half, got the win on the next one, and John gave UAlbany a 14-12 lead with a bouncer to the far post.
“We have a 10-man ride that we put in, and in that situation, that’s Graydon’s job, to jump down on that defenseman, and he just kept it in front of him, and the kid kind of brought a stick in front of his face, and Graydon was able to get on the ground and box him out, so he got the push call and we were able to get the ball back,” Marr said.
“The coaches put in a good game plan, and then you’re going all out at the end of the game, it’s playoff time, and we just wanted the ball back,” Hogg said.
“It came down to one team making more plays than the other when it was tied and tight,” Moran said. “It would’ve been easy to go down, and out, when it was 7-1. We fought our way back, and I’m really proud of that. Not so happy with the outcome, though.
“They ride really well. We worked on riding, and the two that we missed were the first one of the game, and then the last one, which is really unfortunate, because we could’ve cleared when it was 12-12, and we didn’t.”
UAlbany 7 0 3 4 — 14
UMBC 3 2 3 4 — 12
UAlbany scoring: Hogg 3-1, Yunker 3-0, Patterson 2-1, Casey 1-0, Salit 0-3, John 2-1, McComber 1-1, C. Hay 1-0, Ryan 1-0. UMBC scoring: Galloway 5-0, Dupuis 4-3, Patschorke 1-2, Bohanan 1-1, Frawley 0-1, Kasner 1-0, Poma 0-1. Goalies: UAlbany, Donnelly, 7 saves. UMBC, Lingner, 8 saves.