The crucial regular-season conference showdown goes to Owls, 7-6
KEENE, N.H. - Fans attending Saturday's men's lacrosse tussle between rivals Keene State College and defending Little East champ Eastern Connecticut State University expected a hard-fought and emotional game and that's exactly what they got.
Goalie Blake Smaldone's (at left) 17 saves are the most by an Eastern goalie this season.
Freshman Tyler McKelvie and senior Ian Hart scored late fourth quarter goals 19 seconds apart and the Owls were able to regain possession after a crease violation by the Warriors in the final minute of play to hang on for the 7-6 Little East Conference victory in front of a packed bleacher crowd at Owl Athletic Complex. McKelvie broke a five-all time with a goal in the fourth quarter.
For the sixth time since 2006, this game was decided by three or less goals and was the third decided by a single goal. Keene has won five of the last seven meetings between the clubs, with both of Eastern's coming last year by three goals at Mansfield, when the Warriors won the regular-season confrontation, 14-11, and the playoff championship, 13-10. Eastern is 0-4 in its last four trips to Keene.
These teams have met in the LEC championship playoff match nine of the last ten years, with the home team winning each time.
Ranked No. 9 in New England, Keene State (7-2, 2-0 LEC) grabbed a 1-0 lead when Hart, coming in from the left side scored at the 13:59 mark. Eastern (3-6, 1-1 LEC), which defeated Keene in last year's LEC playoff championship game, maintained possession for most of the first quarter, tied the game on a man-up goal by junior Mike Jordan (Cheshire) with 3:08 remaining in the quarter.
Set-up by junior Mackenzie Heimert, senior Taylor Jette put the Owls up 2-1 at the 10:12 mark of the second quarter. The Warriors got the goal back when junior All-America Mike Devine (Cheshire) beat Sharp with a goal form 25 yards out.
Keene, which has split its last four matches after winning its opening five, scored the next two goals to take a 4-2 halftime lead. Jumping on a rebound, McKelvie fired a low shot into the cape to give KSC a 3-2 lead.
After Sharp stopped sophomore Zach Thresher (Somers), who had broken in alone, Hart made a quick move up front and put a low shot past freshman goalie Blake Smaldone (Hamilton, MA) to give the Owls a 4-2 lead.
Thresher and Devine scored consecutive goals in the third quarter to tie the game at 4-all.
After Smaldone denied sophomore Ryan Hart and senior Taylor Wicke with nice saves, Wicke was able to find the back of the net from the right side to give KSC a 5-4 lead with 4:54 to go in the half.
The see-saw game was decided in the final quarter.
Set up in front, junior Trevor Morrissette (Bedford, NH) tied the score (5-5) with a goal at the 12:19 mark.
McKelvie and Ian Hart gave the Owls the lead for good. Falling to the turf, McKelvie scored an unassisted goal with a low shot to make it 6-5 and seconds later set up Ian Hart, who blasted a low, hard shot past Smaldone to give Keene State a 7-5 lead with 6:37 to play
But the game was far from over. One minute later, Jordan shoveled in a pass from Morrissette to make it a one goal game (7-6).
Gaining control of the ball with 2:19 to play, the Owls appeared to be in the driver's seat. However, the warriors forced an Owl turnover, giving the ball back to Eastern with 1:28 to go. The Owls defense came up big.
Unable to get the equalizer, the Warriors turned the ball back over to the Owls on a crease violation with 38 second left on the clock.
McKelvie scored twice while Wicke and Jette tallied single goals.
Jordan and Devine each had two goals for the Warriors.
Smaldone finished the game with 17 saves for ECSU.
Keene State won the game despite losing the battle in the face-off circle, Eastern senior Josh Dubinsky (Woodstock) winning 11 of 17.
Eastern still leads the overall series, 16-11. Eastern (seven titles) and Keene (four) have combined to win 11 LEC championships.