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The St. Thomas men’s club lacrosse team knew what to expect from No. 3-ranked St. John’s when the Johnnies visited O’Shaughnessy Stadium Saturday night. Both teams entered the game undefeated and looking for a signature win to put on its resume, but it was St. Thomas that got the win.
Midfielder Will Hersman’s two goals vaulted the Tommies past the Johnnies 9-6 on a frigid night in front of a strong contingent from both teams.
“These are the games you get up for,” Hersman said. “It’s always fun when it’s a top-five matchup, especially when we play our big rivals, the Johnnies.”
Coach Peter Moosbrugger was hesitant to call this a statement win for his program.
“Any time the No. 1 and No. 3 teams play and the winner comes out, it’s a statement (win),” Moosbrugger said. “I’m just glad it’s a win.”
The Tommies (7-0, 2-0 in the Upper Midwest Lacrosse League Division II) went to work early, as attackman David Burke found the back of the net just 1:29 into the contest. His brother, attackman Danny Burke, assisted.
St. Thomas added another goal, this time courtesy of attackman Peter Carbonneau on the man up, putting the Tommies up 2-0 after one quarter.
The Johnnies (8-1, 0-1 UMLL Division II) hit back early in the second quarter as midfielder Luke DeBruzzi drew the Johnnies within one, 2-1.
Hersman tallied his first goal of the night on a close-range shot. The Tommies dominated possession in a fast-paced opening half and took a 3-1 lead into halftime.
“When you look back at the first half, we owned time of possession,” Moosbrugger said. “I think they had more nerves than we did.”
Tommies fend off Johnnie rally
The Tommies tested the Johnnies as St. Thomas scored four of the first five goals of the third quarter. Midfielder Peter Schubloom, Burke and midfielder David Chlipala pushed the Tommies’ lead to 6-2 seven minutes into the third quarter.
Johnnie midfielder Joshua Erickson put the second point on the scoreboard during the scoring spree.
Following a Johnnie timeout, St. John’s found new intensity and four straight goals. Midfielder Miles Armitage scored two, attackman Jake Helmer and DeBruzzi each scored one, tying the score at six heading into the pivotal fourth quarter.
The Tommies had a difficult time matching the Johnnies’ intensity, which led to numerous penalties throughout the third frame.
“We got into the box in the third quarter and let them come back,” Moosbrugger said. “You’ve got to stay out of the box against top opponents. We let them get momentum. In games like this, momentum’s everything.”
Goalie Ryan Zeilinger said the Johnnies played with substantial emotion throughout, but showed in the third quarter.
“They were playing this game for Adam Gott,” Zeilinger said of the St. John’s player who died last summer. “It really was an emotional game for them. They turned it on.”
Unfazed, the three-time national champion Tommies pushed forward to cement the victory.
Leading scorer and midfielder Matt Kleven tallied one four minutes into the final quarter, with a strong side-arm shot finding its way past St. John’s goalie Mike King and giving his team a 7-6 edge.
Hersman’s second goal of the night, a strong, long-range effort with 9:02 left, deflated most of the energy the Johnnies had brought into the final quarter. The Tommies dominance on possession resumed, resulting in Schubloom’s second goal of the game.
The Johnnies never tested Zeilinger the rest of the way and St. Thomas avenged its regular season loss to St. John’s last season with the 9-6 victory.
Hersman was quick to praise the coaching staff and teammates for his strong offensive night.
“My teammates set me up in great positions to succeed,” Hersman said.
The Tommies played Friday night, a 20-0 division win against Carleton, but showed no signs of fatigue playing their second game in two days.
The Tommies return to action Saturday, April 13 at O’Shaughnessy Stadium against St. Olaf. On April 14, the team takes a crosstown trip to battle the University of Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium in non-divisional play.
Hersman said the win against St. John’s is a big boost for St. Thomas.
“Outside of a national championship, it might be (the sweetest win),” Hersman said of defeating St. John’s. “The only thing that might top it would be if we beat St. John’s for the national title.”
Moosbrugger said he thought his team’s ability to overcome adversity after the third quarter will pay huge dividends in its quest for its fourth national title in five years.
“That’s what we’re looking for out of a team like this: to be a national champion,” Moosbrugger said. “You’ve got to find those valleys and work together to get out, and our guys did a great job of that.”
Ross Schreck can be reached at email@example.com.