May 25, 2014

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Limestone Ends DII Title Drought; Tops Post 12-6

by Paul Krome | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | May Madness Home

In-Game Blog Replay

 

Above: Vinny Ricci earned Outstanding Player honors as Limestone took its third NCAA title - and first since 2002 with a 12-6 win over LIU Post. 
Below: The Saints celebrate after the final whistle
. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com) 

BALTIMORE – Limestone last brought the NCAA championship to the South a dozen years ago. Ironically, a player from north of the border made sure the Saints' drought would not extend to a baker's dozen.

Vinny Ricci, a sophomore from Port Moody, British Columbia, scored three goals and had one assist in an explosive second quarter, leading the Saints from a 2-1 deficit to an 8-4 halftime lead that paved the way for a 12-6 win over LIU Post Sunday and Limestone's first national championship since 2002. The 5-foot-10 attackman won Most Outstanding Player honors with five total points (4g, 1a), and eight second-half saves by Patrick Sheridan clinched the Saints' 19-1 season before a Division II-III doubleheader paid crowd of 22,219 at sun-splashed M&T Bank Stadium.

"Every year we have an alumni weekend. The same guys come in, and they preach how special it is to win a national championship and what it means for Limestone," Ricci said. "[The 12-year drought] was definitely something we were thinking about, and we're happy we can win it and bring it back to Limestone for all these players."

One of the most consistently high-achieving teams of this century's first decade, Limestone appeared in each final from 2000-05, winning in 2000 and '02. The Saints may be poised for a similar-type run with their second appearance in the final in three years, this time ending with a ring after outscoring playoff foes Queens, Tampa and LIU Post by a combined 43-22. Senior attackman Todd Nakasuji, likewise a Canadian, said his classmates were still bitter about the 11-10 loss to Dowling in the 2012 final in Foxborough, Mass., a team they had beaten three weeks prior by 8 goals.

They got out that bitterness by dominating both ends of the field in the second frame. Just over a minute in with Post looking to go up by 2, Limestone senior LSM Mike Ponzio stripped Post's Connor Drost. The resulting transition ended when South Carolinian Anthony Quiles found a cutting Ricci on the doorstep, who converted for a 2-2 tie.

Midway through the quarter, Ricci again found himself open near the crease. But before he could finish a catch-and-shoot, goalie TJ DiCarlo held him. With a slash on Post's Robbie Chiocco on the same possession, Limestone ultimately got the extra-man goal when Ricci found senior midfielder Joshua Williams, one of nine Marylanders on the Saints' roster, for a 5-3 lead at 6:16.

Ricci again cut free in close, and Kyle Rhatigan passed to him in stride for a 7-4 lead with 1:59 remaining. Williams punctuated the quarter with 43.6 seconds left, getting a step on Billy Deignan down the right alley.

"The second quarter, we came alive," Nakasuji, who finished with two goals and one assist, said. "This team started to move the ball, move our feet on offense and just found the holes."

Indeed, four of Limestone's seven goals came with assists, and the Saints had helpers on seven of 12 for the game, befuddling a Pioneer defense that hadn't allowed more than nine goals in a game since April 2.

Highlights via NCAA.com

Confounding Post's offense came largely after halftime, when Sheridan and Co. forced the Pioneers to come away with empty possessions after Limestone's torrid offensive pace trended back toward the norm. Sheridan stuffed midfielder Anthony Berardis in an All-American showdown early in the third, one of four saves in the period's first 11 minutes. Later, defenseman Peter Papaleonti delivered a turnover-causing hit, scooped the ground ball, found a streaking Quiles, who, in turn, found an open Rhatigan for a 10-5 lead with 1:40 to play in the frame.

"Putting the ball in the back of the net makes it easy for us to make the plays that we did to get the ball back to them," said senior longpole Anthony Starnino, who finished with seven ground balls and five caused turnovers.

For Post, the loss ended an improbable five-game win streak that included wins at Le Moyne and North Region top seed Adelphi in the NCAA tournament. Their postseason prospects seemed in doubt thanks to a 6-5 start, but a clutch, and perhaps equally improbable, capture of the two-game ECC tournament championship helped get the Pioneers into the eight-team NCAA field.

"If you're a good team you can take that negative energy and make it positive," said sophomore attackman Matty Beccaris, who had two goals for Post. "That's what we did later in the season. That's what we did throughout the playoffs."

The Pioneers have plenty of positive energy – DiCarlo often pumped his fists after his four first-quarter saves – but they couldn't match Limestone's execution.

"In one or two words, be different. We wanted to be different," Starnino said.

For this group of Saints, different means champions.


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