HAMILTON, N.Y. - For the first time in school history, the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team advanced to the Patriot League Championship Game as the #8 Mountain Hawks (13-2) downed #19 Army (7-7), 13-7, Friday night at Andy Kerr Stadium. Senior Adam Johnson posted his 14th-career hat trick while junior Dante Fantoni had five points on two goals and three assists to lead the Mountain Hawks’ attack.
“Army battled hard,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “They brought their very best effort, especially between the lines. They dominated the faceoffs and the groundballs, especially early in the game.
“I give our guys credit. We battled back,” Cassese continued. “We made up for lack of possession in the faceoff game by having some possessions that turned into goals rather quickly. We got our transition game going a bit and we had some offensive possessions where we shared the ball and got a lot of people involved.”
With the victory Lehigh improves to 13-2, setting a school record for wins in a season. The Mountain Hawks earned their first-ever Patriot League Tournament victory to advance to the first league title game in school history. Lehigh is eying its second-ever Patriot League Championship and NCAA Tournament berth on Sunday; the squad won it in 1999 before there was a league tournament and automatic qualifier to the NCAAs.
Freshman Patrick Corbett (two goals), senior Roman Lao-Gosney (one goal, one assist) and junior David DiMaria (three assists) all added multiple points to lead a strong Lehigh offense. The Mountain Hawks have scored 29 goals over their last two games to up their season average to 10.13.
The Mountain Hawks’ defense continued to impress, causing 10 of Army’s 16 turnovers led by three from junior Mike Noone. Junior Noah Molnar also added a pair of caused turnovers. Lehigh’s defense held Army standout Garrett Thul to only one goal and one assist after entering with 37 goals and three assists over the first 13 games.
Lehigh got off to a quick start, scoring five of the first six goals. Junior Brian Hess got it started with an unassisted goal off a nice dodge, firing a shot past Army goalie Zach Palmieri to make it 1-0 at 11:29.
Army’s Alex Carros tied it just 1:20 later, but the Mountain Hawks responded with a 4-0 run. Fantoni took a pass from DiMaria from behind the cage and came around the crease for the wraparound goal, making it 2-1 at the 9:12 mark. After more than six minutes without a goal, Lehigh scored three over the next 1:35, beginning with a goal from junior Kyle Stiefel, who was fed in front by Fantoni.
Johnston made it 4-1 just 33 seconds later, followed by yet another 1:02 after that. Conor Hayes pulled Army within 5-2 after the first quarter, but the Mountain Hawks netted three-of-four in the second to take an 8-3 lead at the half.
Freshman Patrick Corbett scored a man-up goal off a feed from DiMaria before senior Cameron Lao-Gosney added an unassisted tally at 8:16. After a Thul goal, junior defenseman Kyle Sheridan scored his first-career goal off an unsettled situation to make it 8-3 at 5:27 of the second, a score which stood at the half.
Roman Lao-Gosney fired an unassisted goal past Palmieri at 12:07 to make it 9-3, but the teams traded goals to end the third with the Mountain Hawks leading, 10-4. Corbett scored his second of the game at the 5:39 mark off another nifty feed from Fantoni.
The fourth quarter began with Lehigh taking three penalties in the opening four minutes and Army pulling within five on a man-up goal by John Adair. But the Mountain Hawks continued to hold their ground defensively and scored three of the next four goals to go up 13-6 before Army tacked on a goal late. Fantoni scored on a feed from DiMaria with 8:51 to play and then later fed Johnston, who completed his hat trick with 4:24 to play. Senior Kevin Donovan Jr. scored his sixth goal in the last two games with just under two and a half minutes to play to give Lehigh its 13th goal of the game.
Lehigh held a slight 30-29 edge in shots, while groundballs were even at 26. Freshman Matt Poillon made four saves for the Mountain Hawks before giving way to junior Griffin Farha, who made three saves in the final minutes. Palmieri made seven saves for the Black Knights.
The Mountain Hawks will now face Colgate on Sunday with a Patriot League Championship and NCAA Tournament berth at stake. Faceoff is set for 3 p.m. in Hamilton, N.Y. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network while streaming audio coverage will be available online at Lehighsports.com.
“You don’t have four teams ranked in the top 20 for no reason,” said Cassese. “This is what it’s all about. You have to beat two top 20 teams in three days. Colgate’s awesome. We’ll have to play our very best game of the year if we hope to win a championship on Sunday.”