Can Underdogs Rule Again in Division II?
Last year was the year of the underdog in NCAA Division II.
After barely getting into the tournament over Le Moyne, Adelphi traveled down to Gaffney, S.C., and upended Limestone for a berth in the finals. After losing on the Island during the regular season, Mercyhurst returned to C.W. Post and gave the Pioneers a beatdown, and managed to parlay that into its first national championship.
All this after C.W. Post and Limestone appeared to be destined for a collision in Baltimore. This year, the same can be said for Le Moyne and Mercyhurst. Is there anything that could derail these two overdogs from making last year seem like an anomaly?
Let's take a look at the games:
Limestone (16-1) at Le Moyne (17-0) – Saturday, 12 p.m.
Le Moyne doesn't mix things up very much. Heck, why would you considering their success it has had over the past decade, with last year's hiccup being one of the few exceptions? Dan Sheehan just plugs new names and faces into the same system and piles up the wins. This fact is the reason that the Dolphins are playing for a shot at the national championship on Saturday. Alas, it could also be their undoing.
How so? Well, they are facing a Limestone team that is more balanced and more dangerous than the one that beat the Dolphins last year in an inter-regional clash in Baltimore, 11-9, especially with the addition of Jake Ternosky. And Le Moyne is doing it with essentially the same system. One could also say they are doing it with less experienced players, but I'm not sure that really matters at this point in the season.
Adelphi's keys to dominating Limestone last year were to win the faceoff battle – the Panthers were 15-for-27 against the Saints – and to have a hot goalie (15 stops for Eric Janssens). While sophomore Cameron Fedish (60.1%) is doing solid work in place of the injured Kam Bumpus, Limestone should have an advantage at the dot. Junior Jeff White has had a spectacular year for Le Moyne with a ridiculous 4.12 GAA and a solid 64.6 save percentage, but he also only made four saves in last year's meeting, so his ability to be a difference-maker is debatable.
As I think about picking this game, I have to admit that I have blinders on after visiting Limestone this week and watching them practice. They are a serious bunch, but not to the point of being stiff. And in spite of having to travel to Syracuse, I think the rout of Dowling two weeks ago will be a major benefit in terms of confidence and experience as the Saints enter one of the toughest places to play in Division II.
The underdogs – in this game at least – prevail. Limestone, 12-9.
Dowling (11-2) at Mercyhurst (13-0) – Saturday, 2 p.m.
The funny thing is, as much as Limestone's win over Dowling has me believing that the Saints can take down Le Moyne on the Dolphins' own turf, it gives me an equal amount of reservation that the Lions can travel to Erie and topple the champs. Add in the fact that Dowling lost to Mercyhurst on its own field during the regular season (albeit by a goal), and the trip across Central Pennslyvania doesn't exactly engender confidence in the Lions' chances.
So what's the only thing that is keeping me from declaring this a total slam dunk for the Lakers?
Yes, the Lions lost the first match-up, but it was no fault of Riley's, who won 14-of-18 faceoffs on the day, including all nine of the first-half draws. There's little reason to believe that Riley can't replicate those numbers (although Chris Ryan and the Lakers will likely have some sort of diabolical plan to even the numbers), and that keeps Dowling dangerous.
That and Vito Demola, Billy Richardson and the rest of the potent Lions offense.
Still, Merychurst has the feel of a team fated to at least defend its title, if not win it outright again in 2012. Dowling didn't have an answer for Brian Scheetz in the first match-up and Michael Grace has quietly put together a solid year in the Lakers' cage, including a 14-save performance against the Lions in the first meeting.
It'll be close again, but the champs squeeze one out. Lakers, 9-7.