Following Plattsburgh State’s men’s lacrosse team’s loss to SUNY Cortland 22-12 in the SUNYAC Championship game Saturday, the team will look ahead to 2019 while reflecting on a 2018 season in which they rebounded from a 1-8 start to make it to the conference finals.
The rematch of last year’s title game with Cortland began poorly for the Cardinals (7-9, 5-1), as the Red Dragons (12-6, 5-1) took a 5-0 lead within the first six minutes.
“We couldn’t quite weather the storm,” said Joe May, PSUC head coach. “We let mistakes compound and roll into bigger ones, and that got us into a little bit of a hole that unfortunately we weren’t about to climb out of.”
A man-up goal by sophomore midfielder Kevin Litchauer and a strong individual play by senior attackman Ryan Hubbard to get behind the defense showed signs of life for PSUC in the first quarter, but the halftime score was 11-4 in favor of Cortland.
May’s message to the Cards during the halftime break reinforced that they were better than their play in that first half.
“In the first half, it was evident everybody came slow,” said Travis Mauro, senior faceoff specialist.
“We were hanging our heads, and Coach said, ‘Don’t show them that. You can’t show them that you’re ready to give up.’”
Mauro, who won 20 of his 35 faceoffs on the afternoon, was one of three PSUC players who received all-tournament team honors after the game.
“Trav stuck with it, persevered, stuck with it and won a bunch of faceoffs in the second half,” May said.
Mauro acknowledged that he was personally doing a good job of getting the ball up the field and communicating with his team, but also put some of the blame on himself for the poor result.
“I made a lot of mental errors,” Mauro said. “I turned it over a lot. I wasn’t giving my team good looks when they were wide open or calling for it. That’s on me for not listening and not being the team player that I should have been.”
Despite the coach’s halftime message and Mauro’s better play in the second half, the Cards’ deficit widened in the third quarter, as Cortland outscored them 8-2, including four goals from junior attackman Terrence Haggerty in that stanza alone.
Trailing 19-6 with only 15 minutes remaining, PSUC’s season chances looked slim, but the Cards made things interesting by scoring five unanswered goals in the first half of the final quarter.
Senior defensive midfielder Brad Johnston, who will begin a law-enforcement career with a job as a Park Safety Ranger, said that there were a number of factors leading to this turnaround.
“We were starting to figure out their defense, and they were starting to work in subs,” Johnston said. “We were all fired up that the game wasn’t going our way, so we wanted to make it look a little better on paper.”
May said the biggest difference in the fourth quarter was that PSUC maintained possession of the ball better, and played better as a result.
The Cards’ comeback attempt fell short, as the Red Dragons hoisted the trophy after holding on for a 22-12 victory.
“It was disappointing,” Johnston said. “All good things have to come to an end, but at least we made it to the championship.”
Eight members of the PSUC roster were represented on the All-SUNYAC teams, with Moller and Hubbard each earning first-team nods.
Hubbard’s five goals in the game brought his final career total to 164 goals and 206 points. He was awarded the SUNYAC offensive player of the year award for the second straight season and the Senior Achievement Award at the PSUC Student-Athlete Recognition & Awards Ceremony.
Junior defensive midfielder Nick Della Ratta received the Elite 20 award as the player with the highest GPA in the game, while senior attackman Billy Moller and sophomore defenseman Kyle Smith joined Mauro on the All-Tournament Team.
While Mauro and Moller will be graduating, Smith will be returning, and he is one player May is happy not to lose.
“Kyle Smith is an unbelievable ground-ball machine,”May said. “He’s just a warrior. I’m glad he’s coming back to this team next year.”
Mauro was happy to receive the individual award, but said he hopes it will tell his younger teammates, “If you work hard, that can be you.”
While Mauro will not be returning as a player, he will return as an assistant coach during fall practices ahead of his anticipated December graduation.
“Everything the coaches said was true,” Mauro said. “There are no more freshmen in that room. They’re all sophomores now, and all they can do is start working on next year and preparing for this game again.”
Email Nathanael LePage at firstname.lastname@example.org