KEENE, N.H. 5/7/11 – The Keene State College men's lacrosse team used an opportunistic offense and a stingy second half defense to defeat Eastern Conn. State University 14-9 in the championship game of the Little East Conference Championship held at Owl Athletic Complex on Saturday.
It's the fourth conference crown for the Owls (14-2) who also captured the title in 2005, 2007 and last season. Tying a school record with its 11th straight win, Keene State earns the conference's automatic NCAA Division III Championship berth and awaits the pairings that will be announced on Sunday night.
It's the first time the Owls have won back-to-back titles. "That was one of goals this year," said KSC Coach Mark Theriault.
Senior Griffin Meehan (Simsbury, Conn.) tallied six goals and two assists to lead the Owls offense while the Keene State defense put the clamps on the Warriors, limiting ECSU to just two second half goals.
Like they did in their regular season meeting, a 19-17 come-from-behind, win, the Owls overcame an early deficit. Falling behind 3-0, Keene State responded with eight unanswered goals to take an 8-3 lead. Meehan, who scored KSC's first goal with a crowd-pleasing behind-the-back shot, led the comeback, scoring or assisting on the five of the Owls first six goals. "We knew they can put a few goals in, but it's a long game and we weren't too worried about it," said Meehan.
"We were thinking instead of playing," said Theriault. "Once you get one everyone starts to relax and play our game."
Senior Grant Albertson got the Warriors back in the game, scoring three of the team's next four goals, including one with 11 seconds to play in the half, to cut the Owls lead to 9-7 at the break.
Meehan, who was blanketed all game by the Warriors' defense, and senior Mike Araujo (Southboro, Mass.) scored the only goals in the third quarter as KSC extended its lead to 11-7.
In attempt to clear the ball, KSC sophomore goalie Jason Leser (Brewster, N.Y) accidently lost control of the ball that ended up in the Owls net to make it 11-8. But Owls shook it off scoring the next three goals to make it a 14-8 game.
Leser and the Owls defense took over for there. Lesser stopped a couple of point-blank shots by Salieu Bolivar and a pestering KSC defense managed to keep the Warriors form getting a good shot on net. "I was seeing the ball well and really felt sharp in goal," said Leser, who gave his defense a lot of credit for the win.
"We really had to step it up because they have a high-powered defense," said senior defensive midfielder Warren Dill (Yorktown, N.Y.).
"We just bucked down in the second half," said senior defenseman Colin Barnett (Cheshire, Conn.) "We had too good of a season to lose this game. We stayed calm and didn't celebrate until the game was over."
Junior Matthews Crimmins scored the final goal of the game for the Owls, putting the ball in the net as he was checked to the ground.
Using his speed to get around Warrior defenders, sophomore Ian Hart (Richmond, N.H.) had a solid game for the Owls, finishing with three goals and two assists. Araujo and Crimmins each had two goals.
Albertson finished with four goals for the Warriors (12-6).
Both goalies had their share of terrific stops. Leser finished with 17 saves for the Owls while sophomore Donald Berube stopped 12 shots for ECSU.
KSC won the game despite losing the face-off battle. Warrior All-American won 21 of 24 face-offs, but the Owls took advantage of several Eastern Conn. turnovers while attempting to clear the ball.
Theriault and the Owls are looking forward to a nice run in the NCAA tournament. "I'm not satisfied with this," he said. "We're looking for a good seed and do some damage in the NCAA tournament. We're not just happy to be there anymore."