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ITHACA, N.Y. – There was a moment for the Ithaca College men’s lacrosse team during Saturday’s Empire 8 championship when all of the momentum was with the visiting Stevens Institute of Technology Ducks.
Top-seeded Ithaca had seen its three-goal lead evaporate as third-seeded Stevens evened the title game at 10 thanks to a 5-2 run bridging the second and third quarters.
With 15 minutes remaining to decide the conference championship and, with it, an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III tournament, the Bombers didn’t panic; rather the No. 1 team in the country refocused their efforts, clamped down on defense and pulled away for their second conference championship in three years, and fourth in school history.
Junior Jack Shumway scored two of his four goals one minute apart in the fourth, and sophomore Keith Morrissey and freshman Josh Della Puca each added goals to power Ithaca (18-1) to a 15-11 win over Stevens (14-5) at Higgins Stadium.
The Bombers advance into the NCAA tournament and will learn their first-round opponent during the annual selection show, at 9 p.m. Sunday evening.
“I thought our defense took care of business. Once it really mattered in the fourth quarter we only gave up one goal,” said Eli Gobrecht, Ithaca’s senior All-American defender who collected five groundballs and caused three turnovers.
“Ever since the RPI loss we’ve re-grouped and tried to work harder and be ready for whatever the ups and downs are, and you saw that today when Stevens tied it up. Maybe we would have folded earlier in the year but instead we came back and buried them.”
The Bombers last won the conference championship in 2014, winning a first-round NCAA game before falling in the second round.
After Gobrecht hit the post with his shot, Della Puca grabbed the loose ball and scored unassisted 4:24 into the final stanza for an 11-10 lead. Sophomore Keith Morrissey then collected a loose ball in transition and fired home his first goal of the year for a 12-10 lead with 7:14 remaining.
Shumway tacked on back-to-back goals 59 seconds apart for a 14-10 lead, and sophomore Kaelan Fitzpatrick finished off the scoring with a goal with 39 seconds left as Ithaca scored 15 or more goals for the 18th time in 19 games.
“The key was definitely communication, that’s something we’ve been stressing all week. We have to talk to each other no matter what happens, and we have to stay composed the entire game,” said Morrissey, who caused four turnovers to lead a stout Bomber defense.
“This feels great and I’m really happy we get to move on. My teammates on defense did a phenomenal job and I’m really proud of the way they played. We knew we had to go out and bang with Stevens, pressure them the entire time. Our offense did a great job holding onto the ball. Once Stevens had the ball they started forcing it and they played right into our hands. We love to be aggressive the entire game.”
Senior Scott Sidnam made 14 saves in the championship and 20 combined in the two tournament wins. He was named Tournament Most Valuable Player.
“We said at the beginning of the year we wanted to win an Empire 8 title, and it feels great to finally accomplish that,” said Sidnam, a two-time Empire 8 Goalie of the Year.
“Everyone knew it was do-or-die time, win or go home, so everyone played their hardest and we held them. We all think we can win a national championship. We’re all buying into that and we know we’re capable of that. If we play like we’re capable of playing we can beat any team in the country.”
Ithaca extended its school-record winning streak to 16 games while setting a school record for most wins in a season with the victory over No. 3 Stevens (14-5).
Sophomore Kaelan Fitzpatrick scored three goals, junior John Januszkiewicz added one goal with two assists, and sophomore Jake Cotton scored two goals with an assist for Ithaca, ranked No. 1 in the country by both the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) and Nike/Lacrosse Magazine.
Della Puca and sophomore Greg Drillock each added one goal with one assist, sophomore Winston Wenham had four groundballs with two caused turnovers, and junior Grant Osadchey won 73.3 percent of faceoffs (22 of 30).
Ithaca enjoyed a 51-37 edge in shots, and a 33-16 edge in groundballs.
Stevens led 3-1 late in the first before Ithaca went on a 6-0 run while holding the Ducks scoreless for 11:30 spanning the first and second quarters. Fitzpatrick scored twice during the run, including a goal with 9:06 left before halftime that staked the Bombers to a 7-3 lead.
The Ducks responded by scoring three of the final four goals of the opening half as IC took an 8-6 lead into halftime.
Cotton and Januszkiewicz each scored early in the third to stake the Bombers to a 10-7 lead, but Stevens closed the quarter scoring three straight goals to tie the game heading to the fourth.
That’s when the Bombers took over, holding Stevens scoreless for 14:24 to earn the championship.
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