Thanks to Fairfield’s 5-4 victory over Hofstra on Friday, April 24 and Towson’s loss at Drexel on Saturday, April 25, the Stags have clinched the regular season title and top seed for the Colonial Athletic Association men’s lacrosse tournament, in which Rafferty Stadium will play host.
Fairfield dominated the opening period, holding the Pride to no offensive possessions until the 8:40 mark. Senior Tristan Sperry struck first for the Stags, firing his running shot to the top right corner two minutes into play. Fairfield held possession almost at will, scoring again with a long range shot from Jake Knostman ‘17 at the 9:47 mark to make it a 2-0 game. Freshman Joe Rodrigues put home a goal of his own on an assist from Sperry with 8:40 to play before Hofstra would call a timeout. The Pride’s faceoff win out of this timeout was their first offensive possession of the game. The Stag defense held them off confidently, and T.J. Neubauer ‘16 would get in on the scoring action with a long range goal at the 4:48 mark to give Fairfield a 4-0 lead. With the stall warning clock winding down at the end of the period, Dave Fleming ’17 found the back of the net with 42 seconds to go, sending the Stags into the second period with a 5-0 lead.
It was a tale of two periods, as Hofstra was able to garner much more possession. Brian von Bargen would slot home an unassisted goal to put the Pride on the scoreboard for the first time at the 13:05 mark in the second. He would score his second of the game at 8:42 to cut the deficit to 5-2. CAA Preseason Player of the Year Sam Llinares would get on the board himself with 3:09 to play, scoring his 33rd of the season to make it a 5-3 game at halftime.
The Stags took a narrow advantage in shots (14-13) into the locker room, as well as a lead in ground balls (13-8) and faceoffs (7-3).
Hofstra would own a tense, but scoreless third period. The Pride would manage to register 14 shots to Fairfield’s four, and force five saves from Tyler Behring ‘17. Fairfield would commit four turnovers and only manage one ground ball, while Hofstra scooped up eight in this period. The Pride also owned the shooting advantage 14-4. Behring and the Stag defense would hold strong regardless, taking the 5-3 lead with them into the final period of play.
The last period saw Fairfield’s scoring drought continue, as Hofstra continued to threaten in the Stags defensive half. Behring would come up with three vital fourth-period saves, totaling 11 for the game. Zachary Franco pulled the Pride within one with a goal at the 2:39 mark to make it a 5-4 game, setting up an exciting finale. Senior Tom Lukacovic was called for a slashing penalty with 1:06 to play, giving the Pride an extra-man opportunity for effectively the rest of the period. The defense proved their worth yet again, stonewalling another flurry of shots and sneaking away with the 5-4 victory.
The Stags also committed 16 turnovers, and Hofstra registered an impressive 39 shots on the night to Fairfield’s 21. The Pride also owned the narrow advantage in ground balls (23-20).
“I’m really proud of goaltender Tyler Behring, and I’m really proud of our defense as a whole,” head coach Andy Copelan said. “We challenged our defense to respond appropriately, and they certainly did. I’ve never even been part of a game where a team goes scoreless for 45 minutes, let alone be a part of a win. Our defense was absolutely outstanding today.”
The semifinal doubleheader is slated for Thursday, April 30, and will feature the defending CAA champion Drexel (7-7; 3-2 CAA) taking on Towson (9-5; 3-2 CAA) at 4 p.m., followed by Fairfield (9-5, 4-1 CAA) clashing with fourth-seeded University of Massachusetts Amherst (4-9; 2-3 CAA) at 7 p.m. The Stags narrowly edged the Minutemen 10-9 on Saturday, April 4 in Amherst. The winners will face off in the championship on Saturday, May 2 at 1 p.m.
“I’ve told my guys that I’ve been waiting for a long time for them to put together a full 60-minute performance,” Copelan added. “We haven’t yet done that, where everything has totally clicked. Obviously, the clock is ticking, so that is the focus.”