Knotted at 10, the St. Thomas men’s club lacrosse team had high hopes heading into sudden-death overtime with St. John’s Friday night.
“We got, in my opinion, one of the best offenses in the country. We’ve just got to get the ball to them in overtime,” coach Peter Moosbrugger said.
After losing three straight faceoffs to close the fourth quarter, the No. 3-ranked Johnnies scooped up the ball to start the 4-minute, sudden death overtime period. St. John’s put continuous pressure on defending national champion St. Thomas— a No. 4-ranked team looking to maintain its 9-8 series lead over the rival university.
St. John’s (7-2 overall, 3-0 UMLC) had multiple missed opportunities early in overtime play as a shot sailed high, another wide and two others into Tommie goalie Ryan Zeillinger’s stick. However, the Johnnies eventually capitalized on what Moosbrugger called a “poor decision,” giving St. John’s an 11-10 win over visiting St. Thomas 3:30 into overtime.
“We had a wide open guy at the 20. (Defender Joel Friebe) just didn’t see him, so he just tried to pass back to the goalie; it just kind of rolled off his stick right to the (Johnnie) attackman, who scored on an open net,” Moosbrugger said.
Midfielder Will Hersman said while it was a heartbreaking way to lose, it was just a simple mistake on the Tommies’ end.
“You got to give the Johnnies credit. They took advantage of it, but from our perspective, we were starting to get geared up, ready to go down there and attack back on offense,” Hersman said. “It’s just one little mistake, and the game is over.”
Just as the Johnnies closed scoring, they opened it in the first quarter when attackman Jake Helmer finished on a 45 second possession to put St. John’s up 1-0 with 12:46 to play.
St. Thomas’ attackman Adam Porter responded about a minute later, coming up from behind the net and cranking a left-handed shot past St. John’s goalie Tyler Olson from about five yards out for a 1-1 score.
St. John’s claimed the game’s next possession on the faceoff but was assessed a penalty on a later St. Thomas possession that the Tommies (5-3 overall, 1-2 UMLC) wouldn’t ignore. Tommie midfielder Matt Kleven scored on the man-up to give St. Thomas its first lead of the game, 2-1 with 9:01 to play.
St. Thomas and St. John’s traded off scoring through the rest of first quarter with Tommie midfielder Joe Palermo and Johnnie attackmen Brooks Armitage and Michael Culshaw-Maurer, knotting the score at 3-3 to start the second quarter.
“One of the keys at the beginning of the game was ball possession, and we did that well,” Palermo said. “After the two losses we had previously in the season, we came together as a team really nicely.”
St. John’s found a burst of energy after midfielder Andrew Fairnbairn found the net on a man advantage for a 4-3 Johnnie lead to open the second-quarter scoring. Sixteen seconds later, Armitage scored his second goal of the night on a broken Tommie clear and was followed by Helmer’s second goal off a fast break, putting the Johnnies up 6-3 with 9:20 to play in the half.
Despite going a man up three times, the Tommies didn’t score for the rest of the second quarter and trailed 6-4 heading into halftime.
“I think at times they seemed to out-hustle us and beat us down the field, and we can’t have that,” Moosbrugger said. “We gave up too many opportunities in transition, and we needed to make them beat us six on six. Unfortunately, at times, we broke down in transition; we’ve got to clean that up.”
St. John’s added three more goals in the third quarter. Of the Johnnies’ three third-quarter goals, midfielder Ben Martynec was responsible for one of two that came on the man-up. Kleven also took advantage of a St. John’s penalty and scored with 3:10 to play in the third quarter.
Fairnbairn closed the quarter with his buzzer-beating goal on a fast break to end the third period with the Johnnies leading the Tommies 9-6.
In the fourth quarter, Hersman, who hadn’t taken the field for the Tommies since suffering a hamstring injury in the first game of the 2014 season, was ready to make a name for himself again. The senior scored his first goal of 2014 with 11:02 to play in the fourth quarter.
“I got the ball up top. The other teammates cleared through for me and just got a good shot down the alley, and I put it away,” Hersman said.
Moosbrugger said Hersman’s absence on the field had been apparent in past games for the Tommies.
“He’s been working his tail off to get back on the field, and that was noticeable tonight,” Moosbrugger said. “He was a noticeable factor in the game … That was a pretty darn good game for a guy who’s not played for months.”
After back and forth scoring from the Tommies and Johnnies, St. Thomas took a 10-9 lead when attackman Dan Burke stole the goalie’s pass and found twine on an open net with 2:50 to play.
St. John’s Martynec responded with nine seconds left in the game to tie the score at 10 and force overtime.
“We were finally able to make our run for a lead, and again, we made a poor decision in transitions and allowed them to score and put this thing in overtime,” Moosbrugger said. “Right now, it’s decision making, but we can keep coaching that. What I’m glad to see is how we’re going about business.”
St. Thomas returns home Monday for Senior Night and its final regular-season game against Bethel University.
“This is a group of 14 seniors who have put the team where it’s at, and we need to finish the rest of the season for them,” Moosbrugger said. “That’s going to be their going out party at the stadium and then moving forward, what we do is going to be for them.”
Briggs LeSavage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.