Men’s lacrosse ends historic season with loss

Josh Barber

RIT captains Evan Burley, Elliott Cowburm, P.J. Hart and Kyle Aquin receive the National Runner-Up trophy after a 16-14 loss to Stevenson in the national title game.

The RIT men's lacrosse team (19-3) led 13-10 heading into the fourth quarter, but could not hold on, losing to Stevenson University (22-2) 16-14 in the NCAA Division III Men's Lacrosse Championship from Lincoln Financial Field in front of 25,211 fans on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Sophomore Kyle Aquin (Hamilton, Ontario/St. Jean De Brebeuf) tied the NCAA Division III Men’s Lacrosse Championship Game record by scoring a career-high seven goals. He matched the mark set by Salisbury’s Sam Bradman in 2011.

RIT trailed 5-0 just 5:37 into the contest, and 6-1 after the first quarter, but stormed back, scoring five in the second and seven in the third, out-scoring the Mustangs 12-4 over that span to take a 13-10 lead into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for RIT, Stevenson scored five straight goals in span of 2:27 early in the fourth quarter, than hang on late to win its first Division III National Championship.

"I'm extremely proud of the entire team," said Head Coach Jake Coon. "They battled the whole game, and we were in it right to the end."

Aquin led RIT with seven goals, while Eddie Kiesa (Syracuse, NY/Jamesville-Dewitt) had six points on two goals and four assists. Allister Warren (Toronto, Ontario/Malvern Collegiate Institute) had three goals, while Brad Gillies (Oakville, Ontario/St. Thomas Aquinas) had a pair of assists. Pat Johnston (Norwell, MA/Norwell) took the loss in net, making 11 saves.

Shots were 43-42 in favor of RIT. Stevenson won the ground ball battle 49-35, while the Mustangs committed six face-off
violations. The Tigers won 15-of-33 face-offs led by junior Tyler Brooks-Lambert (Seneca Castle, NY/Midlakes) who went 14-of-26 with five ground balls. RIT's top-ranked man-up unit went 4-of-10 with the man advantage.

Mark Pannenton led the Mustangs with five goals, earning Championship game MVP honors. Peter Green tallied three goals, while Nick Rossi had two goals and two assists for Stevenson, who finished the season with an 11-game winning streak en route to a 22-2 record. Dimitri Pecunes picked up the win, making 15 saves.

RIT and Stevenson combined to score 30 goals in Sunday’s championship game, marking the fifth time in the history of the NCAA Division III Championship that at least 30 goals have been scored.

Stevenson jumped on RIT early, scoring the first five goals of the game in just 5:37, stunning the large RIT crowd. The Tigers finally got on the board when Warren drove past his man at the top of the box and scored with a good low shot, cutting Stevenson's lead to 5-1 midway through the frame.

Pannenton scored his second goal of the quarter with 20 second to play in the first quarter to give the Mustangs a 6-1 lead.

Aquin made it 6-2 at the 11:53 mark of the second quarter with his 59th goal of the season off an assist from Kiesa. That goal was RIT's 309th of the 2013 season, snapping the all-time record for goals in a season, set in 2011.

After Stevenson upped its lead to 8-3 moments later, RIT scored three straight goals, pulling to within two at 8-6 on Warren's second of the game off an assist from Gillies with 2:17 left in the half. Jack Krzyston (Bedford, NH/Bishop Guertin) and Aquin also had goals in that run for the Tigers.

Pannenton closed out the first half scoring with his third of the half with 1:07 remaining, giving Stevenson a 9-6 lead at the half.

The Tigers took the momentum into the third quarter, outscoring Stevenson 7-1 over the 15-minute span to take a 13-10 lead. The Tigers rattled off the first first four goals of the third, including two man-up goals. Stevenson took two penalties, including an unsportsmanlike penalty that gave the Tigers a chance to show the nation's top extra man unit.

Kiesa and Aquin each had two goals during the run. Kiesa's unassisted goal with 9:54 to play in the quarter capped off the run and gave the Tigers their first lead of the game.

Pannenton broke the Tigers run with a goal with 5:57 to play in the third, tying the score at 10-10.

Aquin sandwiched a pair of goals in between a Warren goal to close out the third quarter, giving RIT a 13-10 lead heading
into the fourth quarter. Aquin's seventh goal of the game, coming with 1:07 left in the quarter, was the product of a tremendous one-handed feed from Kiesa.

Stevenson came roaring back in the fourth, scoring five times in 2:27, taking a 15-13 lead on Pat Condon's unassisted goal with 11:31 to play in regulation to stun the Tigers.

Freshman Alec Sulesky (Medina, OH/Medina) broke the run for RIT with his 13th goal of the season with 10:13 to play, cutting the Mustangs lead to 15-14.

Rossi would tally an unassisted goal with 5:07 to play that made it 16-14 Stevenson.

RIT had a chance late when Stevenson committed two fouls with 1:14 left, givng the lethal RIT man-up unit a second two-man advantage. Aquin had a great look from 10 yards out, but his shot just missed the crossbar. Kiesa had two shots that Pecunes was able to save and the Mustangs cleared the ball, running out the final 40 seconds for the win and the title.

The Tigers set a new school record by scoring 321 goals in 2013. The RIT man-up unit ended the season by setting a NCAA Division III record, converting 54.8 percent of its opportunities, scoring 46 times in 84 chances.

RIT is now 14-15 all time in 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, including an 8-4 mark since 2010. Overall, RIT is 68-13 since the start of the 2010 season. This was the first trip to the championship game for the Tigers, who before this season, had gotten as far as the national semifinals on five other occasions. The senior class of Elliott Cowburn (Oakville, ON/Holy Trinity), Evan Burley (Canandaigua, NY/Canandaigua Academy), PJ Hart (Camillus, NY/West Genesee), Nick Schiefer (Birmingham, MI/Birmingham Seaholm), Luke Wolfe (Buffalo, NY/Williamsville North) and Matt Leczynski finished their careers with four conference titles, four trips to the NCAA Tournament, RIT's first ever trip to the Championship game.

RIT opened the tournament with a 22-13 win over Cabrini in the second round, then ousted Tufts 14-5 in the quarterfinals, before a dramatic 10-9 overtime win in the semifinals at No. 1 Cortland. RIT outscored its opponents 60-43 in four NCAA Tournament games this season.

Today’s game was a rematch of an overtime thriller back on Feb. 27 that Stevenson won 12-11. Pannenton scored the game winner with 1:49 to play in the overtime. RIT is 0-3 all-time against the Mustangs.

"This group of seniors have taken this program to the next level," said Coon. "They accomplished that with hard work and class and have left the program in good shape for the future."

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