SCHENECTADY — If the Union College men's lacrosse team could bottle how it played in the first half against RPI on Wednesday and uncork it against Rochester Institute of Technology at 1 p.m. Saturday, the Dutchmen would be in pretty good shape.
Even then, though, Union faces a formidable opponent in the Liberty League championship game, as the Dutchmen will play the No. 1 team in the country in Division III, an RIT program that has won the Liberty League in all of the previous nine seasons under head coach Jake Coon and national championships in 2013 and 2017.
The No. 12 Dutchmen (13-2) saw the Tigers (17-1) as recently as April 24, when RIT came to Frank Bailey Field and shut down Union in the fourth quarter for a 12-9 victory.
"They're a great, great team," Union head coach Paul Wehrum said. "They face off exceptionally well, they're solid in the goal, so that's why they're the No. 1 team in the country. They have one loss, to Amherst, and Amherst is still playing, so we're looking forward to going out to Rochester."
RIT lost to No. 5 Amherst 17-16 on March 16, and since then has rattled off 12 straight victories, most recently a 17-13 Liberty League semifinal win over St. Lawrence on Wednesday, while Union was knocking off RPI 13-8.
The Dutchmen led 9-0 at halftime of that game.
"We have to play smart," Union goalie Jack Santilli said. "We have to do exactly what we did in the first half [against RPI], play the Union lacrosse we know we can play and not play down to what the other offense wants to do."
The game stats were pretty even in the loss to RIT, but after Keaton McCann scored with 13:31 left in the fourth quarter to pull the Dutchmen within 11-9, Union didn't find the back of the net the rest of the way.
"I think we kind of thought we were a little bit better than we were," Union junior attack Kerry Lyne said. "A big thing with us is playing our game, trying to play Union lacrosse and not let them set the tempo. RIT's an unbelievable team, so this time we'll be a little better prepared, see our matchups and do our best to take 'em down."
Even if the Dutchmen lose, Wehrum believes they'll get an at-large bid to the 34-team Division III NCAA Tournament.