By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament came to Klöckner Stadium on Sunday, and what unfolded won’t soon be forgotten at UVa. After a lightning delay that pushed the opening faceoff back 80 minutes, fans witnessed a classic. The participants came away marveling, too.
“Wow,” Bucknell coach Frank Fedorjaka said. “What a game.”
Imagine how Dom Starsia felt. His team won. The Cavaliers prevailed 13-12 on sophomore atttackman Matt White’s goal 87 seconds into overtime.
“I’ve said it before: I’m not a big fan of using the word ‘character’ to define what you do on an athletic field, but we demonstrated some determination today, a little fighting spirit when we had to have it,” Starsia said. “There are just some games that are going to stay with you for a long time, and this is one of them.”
UVa, the No. 7 seed in the 16-team NCAA tournament, led only twice Sunday: at 1-0 and at 13-12. With 90 seconds left in the third quarter, the Cavaliers trailed by four goals and seemed headed for a first-round exit. With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Virginia still trailed by two.
“It was definitely an emotional roller-coaster,” junior attackman Steele Stanwick said. “There were a few times where I started to doubt us a little bit, but it just shows [the heart of] this team and what we’re all about.”
Junior attackman Chris Bocklet scored the game’s first goal, off a pass from freshman midfielder Rob Emery.
Stanwick fed White for the final goal. Moments later, White found himself on the bottom of a pile of jubilant Wahoos.
“It definitely wasn’t comfortable,” he said afterward with a smile, but White wasn’t complaining. Not after a victory that extended UVa’s season for at least another week.
“This is a really good moment for us,” Starsia said. “We don’t have a lot of time [to enjoy] this, but it’s one we’re going to be able to come back to and remember for a long time.”
Virginia (10-5) advances to meet No. 2 Cornell (14-2) at noon Saturday at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y. A victory would send UVa to the NCAA semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
The ‘Hoos beat the Big Red 11-9 in March. Both teams have changed significantly since then, however, and Cornell will be favored in the rematch. That’s fine with Starsia. If his team plays with as much grit Saturday as it showed against the Patriot League champion Bison (14-3), he’ll be happy.
“Bucknell was a great opponent, and we certainly had plenty of opportunities to pack our bags, and I just never felt like we were going to stop playing,” Starsia said. “I didn’t know if we were going to have enough time to get there in the end, but I personally felt it, and I could feel it in the huddles.
“I can still hear [sophomore midfielder] Chris LaPierre yelling in my ear that we’re winning this game, when we were down three or four in one of those timeouts in the fourth quarter. I think the players really felt that way. You never know whether or not you’re going to be able to follow through on it, but we just kept battling, and this is one of those ones that you’re going to remember for a long time.”
After three straight goals by junior Charlie Streep, a nephew of actress Meryl Streep, Bucknell led 9-6 late in the third quarter. Then another Bison attackman, Todd Heritage, scored to make it 10-6.
The ACC player of the year led UVa back. Stanwick scored an unassisted goal to cut Bucknell’s lead to 10-7 late in the third, then totaled two goals and two assists in a spectacular fourth quarter.
“As the game went, I just felt I needed to assert myself a little more,” Stanwick said. “I’m lucky enough that it paid off, and my teammates put me in some good spots to make some plays.”
This is the healthiest Stanwick has been since hurting his right foot March 19 against Ohio State. He then suffered an injury to his left calf April 9 while scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against North Carolina. He missed only one game, but not until recently was Stanwick able to resume practicing regularly.
“I think it’s really been hard on him, because I don’t think he’s felt like he’s played in the games the way he would like to, over the last month or six weeks, and I don’t think he feels like he’s contributed as much as he’s wanted to,” Starsia said.
Stanwick had five assists in the regular-season finale, an 11-2 rout of Penn, a game in which Virginia played without All-America midfielders Shamel and Rhamel Bratton. Shamel has been dismissed from the team, but his twin was in street clothes on the UVa sideline Sunday and may start practicing this week.
“As we have had to retool a little bit offensively over these last couple of weeks, having your quarterback out there has been really important,” Starsia said.
“We played well offensively today; we just didn’t have the ball a lot. That was the thing.”
Box scores in this sport do not include time-of-possession statistics, but The Washington Times’ indefatigable lacrosse reporter, Patrick Stevens, calculated that Virginia had the ball for only about 10 minutes after halftime.
“We kind of kept yelling from the sideline that we needed to be patient, that we couldn’t just rush to the cage, because our defense was exhausted,” Starsia said. “So it’s really hard to maintain that balance of being patient when you haven’t had the ball for a long time, but I thought we did a good job of that. And Steele is the straw that stirs that drink for us offensively and sets the tone for us across the board.”
Led by Stanwick, who finished with three goals and five assists, UVa’s attack sparkled. Bocklet had a game-high five goals, and White added two.
Without the Brattons, “we’re a little different team than we were a couple weeks ago,” Starsia said. “We need our attack to play a little bit better. It’s nice that Matt White has picked a good time to kind of hit his stride a little bit.
“With who we are right now, we need Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet and Matt White and those guys, we need every little bit of what we can muster up offensively, and those are our big boys right now, Chris and Steele especially.”
After a controversial call gave possession back to Virginia, Stanwick’s unassisted goal made it 12-11 with 2:32 left in the fourth quarter. His final goal pulled UVa to 12-12 at the 1:46 mark.
“He’d get my vote for a first-team All-American,” Fedorjaka said.
Virginia senior Brian McDermott won the ensuing faceoff, and with Bucknell’s Jake Clarke on the sideline serving a one-minute penalty, the Cavaliers had an extra-man opportunity. Their shots missed the cage, however, and so the ‘Hoos went to overtime for the third time this season.
UVa lost the faceoff that started the extra period against Stony Brook on Feb. 26, and then again against UNC on April 9. In each case, the Cavaliers still managed to win, so nobody on the home sideline panicked when Clarke won the draw to begin overtime Sunday.
The ball ended up in the stick of Bucknell midfielder Billy Eisenreich, who had tormented the ‘Hoos all game. Covering him was defensive middie Blake Riley. Near midfield, Eisenreich slipped, and Riley pounced, knocking the ball free and then scooping it up to begin the possession that would end with White’s game-winner.
Riley, a sophomore from South Hamilton, Mass., led Virginia with six ground balls Sunday.
“He had an unbelievable day,” said senior goalie Adam Ghitelman, who finished with 11 saves. “Picked up some great ground balls for us, made some big plays. That’s the kind of stuff you need in the playoffs.”
Riley is “another one of those young guys that didn’t play much last year and was a little slow kind of getting to it, but he’s just getting better and better,” Starsia said. “He’s a pretty athletic kid, and I expect this is just the tip of the iceberg for him in terms of his playing career.”
After gaining possession, UVa opted not to call a timeout in OT, hoping to keep Bucknell’s defense from getting set. The ball went to No. 6, naturally, and from behind the cage Stanwick made a move that drew White’s defender to him momentarily.
An instant was all Stanwick needed. He flipped a short pass to White, who came around the cage uncovered and fired a right-handed shot past Bison goalie Kyle Feeney. Game over.
“Steele draws so much attention that he was able to throw one to me,” White said, “and I had some space and luckily snuck one in there.”
Under Starsia, the Cavaliers have won three NCAA titles — in 1999, 2003 and 2006.
“We’ve been fortunate to do that, and when you’re standing there on the field, that means an awful lot,” Starsia said Sunday night. “But I would tell you that I don’t remember that it felt a lot better than what winning that game felt like today.”