May 3, 2014
Championship Central | Denver 14, Villanova 7 (Box)
By Richard Finn
Special to BIGEAST.com
VILLANOVA, Pa. – The road to the NCAA Tournament and the BIG EAST Men’s Lacrosse Championships crown presented by New York Life was not a rocky one for the top-seeded and No. 2 nationally-ranked Denver Pioneers.
Playing before a FOX Sports 1 national audience, the Pioneers (14-2) extended their winning streak to 11 games behind a high-octane offense that netted eight consecutive goals and a stingy defense that pretty much shut down the third-seeded Wildcats (6-10) in the second half to silence a Villanova Stadium crowd for a resounding 14-7 win.
“Our guys had the resolve in the second half to be composed and to do what we normally do, which is to play unselfishly and great defense,” said Denver coach Bill Tierney.
“It got away from us,” Villanova coach Michael Corrado said of the second half onslaught. “It went from 6-6 to 11-6 like that. It was hard to catch up. It kind of snowballed on us pretty quick.”
After scoring a BIG EAST tournament-tying single-game record of 7 points in the semifinal 14-7 win over No. 4 Rutgers on Thursday, junior Wesley Berg kept up his torrid scoring with three goals, his sixth hat trick of the season. Berg finished the tournament with eight goals, two assists and the Most Outstanding Player award.
But it was freshman attack Zach Miller who ignited a second half scoring outburst to seal the victory. He put the Pioneers up for good with a third stanza natural hat trick and then dished off a perfect pass to freshman midfielder Tyler Pace as the Pioneers built a commanding 11-6 lead entering the final quarter. Miller finished the game with four goals.
“Zach can sometimes look like he is floating out there and other times he makes those explosive type of moves,” Tierney said of Miller, who had five shots on goal.
The Pioneers came east with a lacrosse pedigree of four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a roster stacked with BIG EAST award winners – Jeremy Noble as Midfielder of the Year and Ryan LaPlante as Goalkeeper of the Year. Seven Pioneers had earned BIG EAST Weekly Player of the Week honors, and seven earned All-BIG EAST accolades, with six on the first team.
They head back to their Rocky Mountain home waiting to learn of their fate in the NCAA tournament when the draw is announced on Sunday. The 18-team tournament starts with the opening round contests on May 7.
Denver entered the week ninth in the NCAA RPI.
It was another frustrating end of season for the Wildcats, who lost in the BIG EAST final for the second consecutive year, and were looking for their first return trip to the NCAA tournament since 2011.
“It is bittersweet,” said Corrado. “We made it to the BIG EAST Championship game and it was tied at halftime with a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. It is what you hope for and we were there. We lost to a team that played better than us today, especially in the second half.”
The championship game was a rematch of a regular-season thriller here at Villanova Stadium about four weeks ago to the day. Denver won that contest 9-8 in overtime.
The game started like it would be another tight contest.
The teams were knotted at 6-6 after a back-and-forth first 30 minutes. Denver led twice in the second period, at 5-4 and then again 6-5 with less than two minutes to play on an acrobatic leaping score by sophomore attack Jack Bobzien. Villanova replied five seconds later on an unassisted score off the face-off by senior captain midfielder Thomas Croonquist.
“The first half we would like to think that we weren’t ourselves but you got to give credit to Villanova,” said Tierney. “They were coming at us hard and they were shooting the ball well.”
The Wildcats led 4-3 after the first quarter. Villanova went up 2-0 lead in the first eight minutes on scores by junior midfielder Eric Gartner and freshman attack Devin McNamara. LaPlante had trouble finding the ball at his feet on McNamara’s shot as it trickled into the net. McNamara added an unassisted goal with a bullet late in the opening stanza for a 4-2 lead but with three seconds left junior midfielder Mike Riis tallied to slice the lead to one.
“I thought we really played well in the first half,” said Corrado. “I thought they played great in the second half, simple as that.” The 2014 BIG EAST All-Tournament Team
Scott Bieda, Rutgers
Liam Byrnes, Marquette
Devin McNamara, Villanova
Thomas Croonquist, Villanova
John LoCascio, Villanova
Chis Hampton, Denver
Zach Miller, Denver
Jack Bobzien, Denver
Jaime Faus, Denver
Wesley Berg, Denver (Most Outstanding Player)