UNION COLLEGE – The firsts keep coming for the Union College men’s lacrosse team.
Playing in their first NCAA Division III Men’s Lacrosse Tournament semifinal on Sunday, the Dutchmen (18-2) jumped out to a 6-0 start en route to an 11-8 win over York at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, leading them into their first national final.
It will be a familiar opponent waiting at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut at 1 p.m. next Sunday: fellow-Liberty League school and defending national champion Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT beat Tufts 26-15 in the other semifinal.
“It doesn’t feel out of place,” Union coach Derek Witheford said. “I’m really proud of them for the way they played both games this weekend in the heat, I’m proud of how they responded, and I know I’ve said it all year, but I’m happy I’ve got another week with them because this is a special group.”
It only took a few minutes for Union’s offense to get on track. First-team All-American defenseman Ryan Puglisi scored the first goal on a fast-break situation where Union had a numbers advantage with 11:45 left in the first. Union scored the next three goals within two-and-a-half minutes on tallies from Keaton McCann, Hayden Frey and Owen Toland.
Jack Donahue and Frey, again, scored for the 6-0 lead with 3:56 left in the quarter.
“We had a couple of plays that were working well with different options, and the kids made good reads and got the right people the ball at the end of the plays,” Witheford said. “We scored 11 goals with nine different goal-scorers, and that’s a pretty good statistic to say this is what Union lacrosse is.”
York (20-3), also making its first national semifinal appearance, finally got on the scoreboard with 2:07 left in the quarter.
Union increased its lead to 8-1 on goals by Peter Burnes and Matthew Georgiades. York notched its second before halftime.
York rallied in the third quarter, closing Union’s lead to 9-5 entering the fourth. The Spartans got it to 9-7 with 12:20 left, but Zack Davis’ goal with 9:52 left gave Union a much-needed boost.
Shortly after that, Union goalie Dan Donahue made a couple of point-blank saves to help keep York at bay. Donahue finished with 16 saves.
“Dan played one of the best games of his career,” Witheford said.
“The first half our defense was fueled by the offensive possessions we were getting,” Donahue said. “The second half, we knew York was going to score some goals and we just had to weather the storm.”
Donahue said that after his first save, he was able to settle into a rhythm, and that his long- and short-stick defenders did a great job of letting him see the types of shots he wanted to see.
“Our defensive unit is the best in the country, and it’s fun to see them take the ball away or check their stick so hard that it falls out of their hand,” Donahue said.
The eight goals tied a season-low for York.
Attackman Peter Burnes made two great plays late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. He first dived to save a ball from going out of bounds on what would have been a turnover. He then spotted an opening, went to the goal and scored with 2:12 left to give the Dutchmen an 11-7 lead with 2:12 left.
Union 6 2 1 2 – 11
York 1 1 3 3 – 8
Union scoring: Burnes 2-1, Frey 2-1, Z.Davis 1-1, Georgeiades 1-0, McCann 1-0, Toland 1-0, Shaw 1-0, Puglisi 1-0, J.Donahue 1-0, McGovern 0-1, B. Davis 0-1. York scoring: Mayer 2-0, Harnick 2-0, Wilhelm 1-1, Wolf 1-0, Ranck 1-0, Marenger 1-0, Reynolds 0-1. Goalies: Union, D. Donahue, 16 saves. York, Michael, 6 saves.