LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s lacrosse team clinched its first Patriot League regular season championship as the #18/19 Mountain Hawks downed #9/11 Bucknell 11-7 Friday night at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium. With the win, Lehigh’s first in Lewisburg since 1998, the Mountain Hawks will host the Patriot League Tournament for the first time in school history Apr. 26 and 28.
“It wasn’t our prettiest effort, but I thought it might have been our most complete game all year long,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “I thought we put a very strong defensive effort, I thought we put a very strong offensive effort and came up with a lot of tough groundballs in between the lines. In big time Patriot League games, you have to do that stuff as well. From the standpoint of a full 60 minutes, this is exactly what I had in mind.”
All three of Lehigh’s starting attackmen registered four points on the evening, with sophomore Dan Taylor netting three goals for his fourth-career hat trick and second in the last three games; he also added an assist. Seniors David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni both scored a goal and handing out three helpers.
Sophomore Matt Poillon had a strong game in net with 12 saves, and also scored his first career goal on a pinpoint 70-yard shot that beat Bucknell’s ten-man ride.
With the win, Lehigh improves to 9-4 overall and 5-0 in the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks have now won four straight games and nine straight over league foes (dating back to last season). Bucknell falls to 10-3 overall and 4-1 in league games.
“I said to the guys in the huddle yesterday before we left practice that the last time Lehigh has beaten Bucknell at Bucknell, I was a junior in high school,” said Cassese. “It’s significant because this is a tough place to play, this is a really good team [Bucknell] who is very well coached. And it’s significant because we get to host the Patriot League Tournament which we haven’t done before.”
Both teams had trouble taking care of the ball in the first quarter as Lehigh turned the ball over seven times, while Bucknell committed five turnovers. The Bison struck first with goals from Brock Ghelfi and Peter Burke 41 seconds apart before senior Alex Drake answered with his sixth goal of the season. The first of three goals by Bucknell’s Chase Bailey gave the Bison a 3-1 lead after one quarter.
Although the stats were relatively even, Lehigh scored the only three goals of the second quarter to lead 4-3 at halftime. Fantoni started the rally when he corralled a loose ball in the middle of the field then came in and sidearmed a shot past Bucknell goalie Kyle Feeney for his 20th of the season. Lehigh pulled even as DiMaria found sophomore Patrick Corbett for a goal at the 7:59 mark and the Mountain Hawks took their first lead on Taylor’s first goal of the game off a feed from DiMaria with 3:37 left before halftime.
In total, Lehigh used a 5-0 spurt to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 Mountain Hawks’ lead with 7:41 left in the third quarter. DiMaria scored his lone goal of the night on a feed from Fantoni, and then set up Taylor for his second of the night before Bailey scored his second of the night to stop the run. Lehigh held the Bison scoreless for 26:24, its third longest shutout streak of the season.
Lehigh’s defense then stepped up as the Mountain Hawks kept Bucknell off the scoreboard through a lengthy Bison possession that lasted close to six minutes. Poillon came up with several saves, and Bucknell put a few shots wide, but the Mountain Hawks could not gain possession long enough to work the ball clear. Finally Poillon grabbed a shot by Peter Burke and as Bucknell set up its ride, the sophomore came out of his crease and fired a shot that sailed 70 yards down the middle of the field and landed in the back of an empty net.
Todd Heritage scored in the final minute of the third quarter to cut Lehigh’s lead to 7-5, but the Mountain Hawks scored four of the next five goals to put the game away. Taylor set up senior Kyle Stiefel for a man-up rocket to put Lehigh up 8-5 and then Fantoni set up senior Brian Hess in front of the crease to give the Mountain Hawks a four-goal advantage.
Following an unassisted tally by Bucknell’s Sean Doyle, Taylor netted his hat trick on a one-handed overhead quick-stick shot on a feed from Fantoni. Sophomore Kurtis Kaunas capped the scoring for Lehigh with a left-handed shot off a nifty individual effort, before Bailey completed his hat trick in the final minute.
Bucknell finished the game with a 34-23 advantage in shots and a slight 36-34 edge in ground balls. The Bison won 12-of-21 faceoffs and committed 20 turnovers compared to 21 for the Mountain Hawks.
Individually, junior Jimmy Cahill registered three caused turnovers while seniors Baxter Lanius and Mike Noone each caused two. Senior Ryan Snyder registered six groundballs, while Poillon and junior Ty Souders collected four apiece.
Feeney finished with six saves for Bucknell. Bailey had a strong all-around game with four groundballs and three caused turnovers to go along with his hat trick, while faceoff specialist Ryan Gutowski collected a game-high eight groundballs.
Before they prepare to host the Patriot League Tournament, the Mountain Hawks will host arch rival Lafayette on Saturday Apr. 20 at the Ulrich Sports Complex. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m.