Lehigh Punches NCAA Ticket with Patriot Crown
|Patriot League tournament MVP
David DiMaria finished with two goals and three assists Sunday in
Lehigh's 11-5 win over Bucknell.
© Kevin P. Tucker
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — David DiMaria dreamt of a day like Sunday afternoon since, as a high school star, he signed to play lacrosse at Lehigh University some four years ago.
Championship game. Capacity crowd. Excitement. Adrenaline.
Five points. Tournament MVP.
And, of utmost importance, a triumph and a trophy.
DiMaria and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks started strong and maintained control throughout the Patriot League final at Lehigh's Ulrich Sports Complex, capping a perfect league season with a resounding 11-5 victory over second-seeded Bucknell. DiMaria finished with two goals and three assists, and the senior was instrumental in the home team building a 5-0 advantage after the first 15 minutes of action.
Lehigh, which improved to 12-4 overall, earned its second-straight league title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I tournament.
"This is a very special day," DiMaria said.
Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese called his squad's performance its best of the year. It was also a complete effort, from opening whistle to final horn.
The Mountain Hawks went on the attack early. They attacked often, too. Dan Taylor, Dante Fantoni and DiMaria all registered goals in the first five minutes of play. Taylor added another later in the period and Brian Hess rifled a shot past embattled Bison goalie Kyle Feeney as time expired in the quarter.
Lehigh 5, Bucknell 0.
"The first period? What were my impressions?" Bison coach Frank Fedorjaka said, repeating the question. "I thought it was pretty evenly played. The stats were even. Their goalie [Matt Poillon] made some very nice saves. They cashed in, and we didn't cash in. I don't think we started slow, things just didn't go our way."
Cassese said the momentum for Sunday's strong start started to build on Saturday night, when the 14 Mountain Hawk seniors spoke about what the championship game meant to them.
"I knew we'd start fast," said Cassese, after taking a timeout from the interview to accept congratulations from a Lehigh higher-up who also told the coach more money was on the way to the rising star coach.
"I didn't know it'd be 5-0 after the first quarter, though. I'm so proud of their efforts and the way they played their hearts out today."
Offensively, Lehigh spread the wealth — an indication to Cassese that his team is clicking on all cylinders. Taylor and Fantoni both finished with hat tricks and two assists. David Hess, Patrick Corbett and Alex Drake all scored one apiece.
In total, three Mountain Hawks totaled five points each.
"We peaked today in the Patriot League championship," Cassese said.
Bucknell finally found the cage with 10:32 remaining in the second period as Chase Bailey did the honors for the Bison. Lehigh, though, maintained at least a four-goal working margin throughout.
This victory was more convincing than the Mountain Hawks' 11-7 triumph on April 12 in Lewisburg.
Lehigh's defense, also, was dynamite.
Led by starters Ty Souders, Mike Noone and Baxter Lanius, the Mountain Hawks held Bucknell six goals below its season average. Cassese said the defenders keyed on Bailey and David Dickson, the Bison's top two offensive players.
Souders called it was a total team effort.
"Those two guys are really good players, but the coaching staff gave us a great game-plan as always and we went out and executed it," he said.
Souders also complimented the play of Poillon, the league's goalie of the year who also made the all-tournament team. Poillon's play, as Fedorjaka said, was a key in the first quarter. Poillon was credited with 10 saves overall.
"There's not too much I can say about Matt other than he's awesome," Souders said. "We know if we screw up, he's back there to save us."
Not to be overlooked was the fine performance of junior Ryan Buttenbaum, who scooped up five ground balls and won 7 of 13 faceoffs. Buttenbaum, Fantoni, DiMaria and Poillon were Lehigh's four all-tournament representatives. Bailey, Dickson and Jackson Place made the team for Bucknell.
Army's Will Mazzone and Alex Daly, and Colgate's Brendon McCann and Robert Grabher rounded out the all-tournament selections.
Lehigh now awaits its NCAA Tournament fate, which will be determined during the selection show next Sunday night. A 4-4 non-conference record means the Mountain Hawks could be starting their national championship quest on the road.
But, as the sun set on their celebration of another league title, the next tournament was in the distant future.
"To have the tournament at Lehigh," DiMaria said, "that was an awesome experience. The home crowd was definitely a factor. Since I set foot on this campus, it was a goal of mine to bring the tournament here and the championship to our school."
Fedorjaka believes the Bison are deserving of an at-large selection.
"The last time I looked at the RPI [used by the committee to help determine the teams] we were fifth," he said. "We have a bunch of wins over Top 20 teams. I think we're one of the best teams in the country."
LEHIGH 11, BUCKNELL 5
Bucknell 0 2 2 1 – 5
Lehigh 5 2 3 1 – 11
BUCKNELL: Goals – Chase Bailey 2, Sean Doyle, Peter Burke, Todd Heritage. Assists – Doyle, Tom Black, David Dickson, Billy Mattimore. Saves – Kyle Feeney 5, Sam Grinberg 3.
LEHIGH: Goals – Dan Taylor 3, Dante Fantoni 3, David DiMaria 2, Brian Hess, Patrick Corbett, Alex Drake. Assists – DiMaria 3, Fantoni 2, Taylor 2, Alan Henderson, Noah Molnar. Saves – Matt Poillon 10, Griffin Farha 0.
Shots: Bucknell 32; Lehigh 35.
Ground balls: Bucknell 25; Lehigh 30.
Turnovers: Bucknell 14; Lehigh 14.