"The Weekend in Stick": It's exactly what it sounds like -- a recapitulation of this weekend's most notable. No doink.
(Part II is here.)
This is it, boys and girls. We're just around a month until the NCAA Tournament starts, which is both frightening and exciting and generally fantastic in a "This song makes me want to dance like nobody is watching!" kind of way.
Here's the five biggest stories from the weekend.
The Patriot League Explodes Your Brain
While College Crosse has generally painted the Colonial Athletic Conference as THUNDERDOME! due to its history of maddening competitive balance and potential death lurking at every corner, the Patriot League has become its own special version of crushing force. This past weekend didn't disappoint in LIGHTNINGDOME! (that name is still a work in progress), with two huge games -- Army at Bucknell and Lehigh at Colgate -- fulfilling the blood lust that Patriot League fans have become accustomed to this season.
Out in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, the Bison dropped their fist game in nine outings with a 6-5 double overtime setback to the Black Knights. Devin Lynch was the hero for Army with his 60-yard, one-man rush that ended with a bouncer that Bucknell keeper Kyle Feeney couldn't stop with just 1:30 left on the clock. The Black Knights didn't look like they were going to need extra time past regulation to pull off the upset of Bucknell, but the Bison's sharp execution of a hidden ball trick from "X" -- a dummy dump from Billy Eisenreich that led to a quick feed to an untouched Chase Bailey -- evened the count at five with just over a minute to play and forced the extra sessions.
The Black Knights' win muddles the Patriot League Tournament picture a bit, pulling the Black Knights back into contention and putting Bucknell square into a mess at the top of the league because . . .
. . . up in Hamilton, New York, Colgate gave Lehigh its first league loss as well, an 11-10 overtime slugfest. It was the Mountain Hawks' first defeat in 10 games. The Raiders' victory put Colgate, Lehigh, and Bucknell into a logjam at the top of the table with each team sitting at 3-1 in conference play. There were seven ties and seven lead changes throughout regulation and overtime, which is just about the greatest thing in the world (excluding my mother's Easter ham).
Jeff Ledwick paced the Raiders on the day with three goals and an assist, including the game-tying and -winning tallies. Colgate gets a bit of a breather this coming weekend with Lafayette and then prepares for a huge Friday game against Bucknell in Lewisburg. Lehigh, contrastingly, heads right back into the depths of fire and brimstone on Saturday when they will host the Bison.
Virginia De-Teeths North Carolina in Chapel Hill
North Carolina tried to make a game of it late, but the damage was already done: With the scored knotted at four, Virginia went on an 8-1 run over 24:11 and demolished any hope that the Heels had to try and pull off the upset in front of the largest crowd at Fetzer Field since 1991. Steele Stanwick had seven points on the day, probably because he hates North Carolina like angry seals hate other angry seals.
R.G. Keenan won about 54 percent of his draws on the day, but the Tar Heels couldn't seem to do much with the bean, probably due to the fact that they were taking on too much water in the defensive end to even make offensive possessions valuable. The Cavaliers are the Cavaliers once again, which means that potent death lurks at every turn, slowly stalking but never quite disappearing, eventually doing what death does: causing death.
There's only one game remaining in ACC regular season play -- Duke visiting Virginia on Friday night. The Cavaliers can finish no worse than 2-1 in league play this season, but the likelihood is that Virginia will finish its conference stretch unbeaten with Maryland, Duke, and North Carolina all sitting with pedestrian 1-2 counts. The ACC Tournament should be an interesting mess of "Well, it's Virginia and a bunch of knuckleheads punching each other in the face" and as fans, that's worth the price of admission.
Loyola Puts Forth Four-Goal Fourth Quarter For Victory (May the Fourth be with You)
Loyola is all sorts of good this season -- the kind of good that ends with trophies and national writers writing stories with headlines like "Where'd Loyola Come From?!?" -- but the Greyhounds have been adopting arsonist theory in recent weeks. Just last week, Loyola took a scare from Ohio State, escaping with a hard-fought 8-7 victory. This past weekend, the Greyhounds upped the degree of difficulty: Down 6-4 with 11:59 left on the clock in regulation, Loyola went on an unanswered four-goal run to put away Fairfield, 8-6. The Greyhounds got scores from four different players in that stretch, showing the depth of Loyola's offensive approach.
The win keeps the Greyhounds' record unblemished on the year at 10-0, but also gives a little context to the Stags' 9-2 campaign. Fairfield has only beaten two teams with winning records this season -- Hofstra (6-5) and Bryant (9-2) -- but showed that it can at least compete with a nationally elite program. The Stags probably aren't built to make a shocking run through the ECAC Touranment or, in all reality, put together a resume worthy of an at-large NCAA Tournament selection, but it does show that Fairfield has a little bit of pop which makes Colgate's and Loyola's victory over them very good -- but not especially notable -- wins.
And that isn't anything to sneeze at out in Stags Country. (Is that a place or a thing? Well, if it isn't, it is now.)
Syracuse Drops Princeton; Wardwell is Now Renting Time Between the Pipes
John Desko isn't afraid of risk. Just off the top of my head, Syracuse, this season, has gone with: Moving, at least at the sunrise of the season, JoJo Marasco from attack to the midfield; rotating his attack through Tim Desko, Collin Donahue, JoJo Marasco; Derek Maltz, and Tom Palasek; a two-goalie rotation with Dom Lamolinara and Matt Lerman; moving Ianzito to short-stick defensive midfield; plugging Kevin Drew right into the lineup against Virginia after his suspension for being a knucklehead; and using everyone but your mother at the face-off dot.
Saturday afternoon, however, was his biggest gamble of all: With the Orange's season on the brink of either disaster of potential salvage, Desko gave the nod to freshman goalie Bobby Wardwell between the pipes. The big bet paid off with Wardwell, as the rookie keeper stopped nine shots and helped Syracuse to a much-needed 10-9 victory over Princeton.
The win doesn't necessarily validate the Orange as a legitimate NCAA Tournament possibility -- there's still a long road ahead for Syracuse, including a trip to Ithaca on Tuesday that is usually akin to taking a knife to the eyeball -- nor does it take the luster off of what kind of team Princeton is. These are both teams that need some tender loving care as the season winds down and, possibly, could cause havoc in May.
Duke Avoids Deathblow, Escpaes Marist 11-10
The Devils needed a 4-1 run in the fourth quarter to knock off the Red Foxes. Yup, that happened.