April 6, 2013

Owls edge Warriors 7-6

KEENE, N.H.  4/6/13 – Fans attending Saturday's men's lacrosse tussle between rivals Keene State College and defending Little East champ Eastern Conn. State University expected a hard-fought and emotional game and that's exactly what they got. 

Freshman Tyler McKelvie (Acton, Mass.) and senior Ian Hart (Richmond, N.H.) scored late fourth quarter goals 19 seconds apart and the Owls were able to regain possession after a crease violation by the Warriors in the final minute of play to hang on for the 7-6 Little East Conference victory in front of a packed bleacher crowd at Owl Athletic Complex.  

For the sixth time since 2006, this game was decided by three or less goals and was the third decided by a single goal. Keene has won five of the last seven meetings between the clubs, with both of Eastern's coming last year by three goals at Mansfield, when the Warriors won the regular-season confrontation, 14-11, and the playoff championship, 13-10. Eastern is 0-4 in its last four trips to Keene.

These teams have met in the LEC championship playoff match nine of the last ten years, with the home team winning each time.

A pair of Owl newcomers enjoyed their first taste of the rivalry. "I was pretty nervous coming into it with all the hype before the game, but it was a great game and fun to play in," said McKelvie, who broke a five-all time with a goal in the fourth quarter. 

"It felt great. I love rivalry games," said freshman goalie Alex Sharp (Winchester, Mass.), who finished with six saves.  "I played in a lot of them in high school and it was a lot of fun to play in."

Ranked No. 9 in Nerw England, Keene State grabbed a 1-0 lead when Hart, coming in from the left side scored at the 13:59 mark.  Eastern Conn, which maintained possession for most of the first quarter, tied the game on a man-up goal by junior Mike Jordan (Cheshire, Conn.) with 3:08 remaining in the quarter.

Set-up by junior Mackenzie Heimert (Burlington, Vt.), senior Taylor Jette (Simsbury, Conn.) put the Owls up 2-1 at the 10:12 mark of the second quarter. The Warriors got the goal back when junior Mike Devine (Cheshire, Conn.) beat Sharp with a goal form 25 years out.

Keene State scored the next two goals to take a 4-2 halftime lead.  Jumping on a rebound, McKelvie fired a low shot into the cape to give KSC a 3-2 lead. 

After Sharp stopped sophomore Zach Thresher (Somers, Conn.), who had broken in alone, Hart made a quick move up front and put a low shot past Warrior freshman goalie Blake Smaldone (Hamilton, Mass.) to give the Owls a 4-2 lead. "I didn't shoot high once," he said. Both my goals went in low.  We were shooting to his strength, but we found a way to stick a few into the net."

Thresher and Devine scored consecutive goals in the third quarter to tie the game at 4-all. 

After Smaldone denied sophomore Ryan Hart (Richmond, N.H.) and senior Taylor Wicke (Fairfield, Conn.) with nice saves, Wicke was able to find the back of the net from the right side to give KSC a 5-4 lead with 4:54 to go in the half.

The see-saw game was decided in the final quarter. 

Set up in front, junior Trevor Morrissette (Bedford, N.H.) tied the score (5-5) with a goal at the 12:19 mark.

McKelvie and Ian Hart gave the Owls the lead for good.  Falling to the turf, McKelvie scored an unassisted goal with a low shot to make it 6-5 and seconds later set up Ian Hart, who blasted a low, hard shot past Smaldone to give Keene State a 7-5 lead with 6:37 to play

But the game was far from over.  One minute later, Jordan shoveled in a pass from Morrissette to make it a one goal game (7-6).

Gaining control of the ball with 2:19 to play, the Owls appeared to be in the driver's seat.  However, the warriors forced an Owl turnover, giving the ball back to Eastern with 1:28 to go.  The Owls defense came up big. "We were just trying to lock them down," said sophomore defender Zach Tulley (Hampstead, N.H.),"We were in a zone defense that's really a shutdown defense and it didn't offer them too much."

Unable to get the equalizer, the Warriors turned the ball back over to the Owls on a crease violation with 38 second left on the clock.

"This is a huge win for us," said Tulley. "It's the first time since I've been here that we beat East Conn. and I'm glad we pulled it out."  

"It always ends up whoever wins this one gets home field for the finals, so it's big to know you have that advantage going into that game," said Ian Hart, who finished with three goals.

McKelvie scored twice while Wicke and Jette   tallied single goals.

Jordan and Devine each had two goals for the Warriors (3-6, 1-1 LEC).

Smaldone finished the game with 17 saves for ECSU.

Keene State won the game despite losing the battle in the face-off circle 11-6. 

Eastern, which won the last two meetings, still leads the overall series between the two teams 16-11.  KSC (four titles) and ECSU (seven titles) have combined to win 11 LEC championships between them.