Another season of Plattsburgh State men’s lacrosse has led to a game at SUNY Cortland in May. For the fifth time in the last six seasons, the Cardinals will take on the Red Dragons with a SUNYAC championship on the line.
The difference this year is that, for the first time, PSUC (7-8, 5-1) enters the game as the defending champion.
The SUNYAC championship game will start at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Cortland’s Stadium Red.
While the Cards enter the game on a six-game winning streak, Cortland (11-6, 5-1) was the last team to defeat them, in a 10-7 game on March 31. In that game, PSUC held a 7-5 lead in the third quarter before a five-goal run by the Red Dragons won the game.
PSUC head coach Joe May expects to see tomorrow’s game played just as tightly.
“We are going to have to play for 60 minutes,” May said. “We can’t give them anything. We are going to have to play like we did when we beat them last year.”
As a result of this slim margin for error, May will be putting a lot of focus into preparation, but he knows that the opponent will be doing the same.
“They are going to want revenge,” May said. “They are going to be practicing very hard. Well, guess what: We are going to be practicing very hard, too.”
After watching video from the Cards’ loss to the Red Dragons, May has keyed in on some areas that his team needs to improve upon.
“Defensively, there are a couple things we needed to shore up,” May said. “We were watching the ball too much, and our recoveries weren’t all that tight.”
However, May acknowledges that he cannot make too many adjustments in terms of game plan.
“We don’t need to rewrite the playbook to beat Cortland,” May said. “We just need to be a better version of us.”
This will be the second consecutive Saturday on the road for PSUC, after a 10-6 win at SUNY Geneseo (7-7, 2-4) to end the regular season last weekend. Senior attackman Ryan Hubbard notched his 200th collegiate point in that game.
Like the Geneseo trip, the Cards will leave this afternoon, ahead of tomorrow’s game. After spending the night at a hotel in Syracuse, affording them the opportunity to sleep in and relax before the championship game, they will once again hop on the bus for the short drive to Cortland.
To earn a spot in the finals for a second consecutive year, PSUC needed to win a tough semifinal contest against the College at Brockport (5-9, 3-3) Wednesday.
The game was scoreless through most of the first half, supporting May’s belief that the semifinal clash featured the SUNYAC’s two best defenses. The deadlock was broken by a transition goal for the Cards by freshman attackman Stephen Kane with 49 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
“It obviously started with our goalie, Donny [Tesoriero],” Kane said. “Then the defense took it up the field, doing the things that they do every day. Our captain Nick Della Ratta ran it down, drew his man, and I just canned my shot.”
A goal that late in the half can swing momentum drastically, but May felt that the goal hurt Brockport more than it actually helped his team.
“After going 0-0 that far into the game, giving up one like that can be back-breaking for the other team,” May said.
The second half was much more open, as PSUC made slight adjustments to its offensive approach.
The Cards scored two more early in the third quarter before the Golden Eagles got themselves on the board, cutting PSUC’s lead had been reduced to one goal, at 4-3.
May felt that his team had forced Brockport to make tough plays to get turnovers, and credited the Golden Eagles with doing that on a few occasions.
Despite Brockport fighting their way back into the game, the Cards still had confidence.
“I knew our defense was going to lock it down,” Kane said. “They all played unbelievably. They bail us out a lot.”
That defense proved essential in the fourth quarter. A goal by sophomore midfielder Kevin Murphy, his fifth of the season, looked like an insurance goal at the time, but proved to be the game winner.
“Ryan Hubbard did a great job drawing two defensemen,” Murphy said. “I was in the right place at the right time. The goalie was moving around in the cage, so I just shot it where he wasn’t.”
The Golden Eagles pressed for the tying goal late, but a man-up goal by PSUC senior midfielder Billy Moller with seven seconds remaining sealed the victory.
The Cards’ ability to make defensinve plays under pressure in the fourth quarter, as shown Wednesday, could be important tomorrow, as May expects the game with Cortland to be just as close, if not closer.
“I expect it to come down to the last play, to be honest,” May said. “I would be surprised if it didn’t.”
Email Nathanael LePage at email@example.com