Third time was the charm for Army as the Black Knights earned their first-ever Patriot League title beating Navy 11-8 Sunday. The Midshipmen had denied its longtime rival when the two met the last two times Army advanced to the championship game in 2005 and 2006.
Any thoughts of this Army lacrosse team hoisting a league championship trophy in May seemed like a distant possibility back in March. The cadets started the season 1-4 punctuated by an overtime loss to Air Force on March 13. Army coach Joe Alberici said his team had every chance to start pointing fingers during their four game losing streak.
Instead they stuck together and won nine of their last ten and earned an invite to the NCAA Championship tournament for the first time since 2005. Senior captain Alex Gephart said those losses in March made Sunday’s win all the more sweet.
“It’s pretty wild to think of when you think of where we came from,” Gephart said. “We are still that same team that dropped those close games to opponents that we, in the locker room, thought we should have won. That drives us. It’s days like today where we have an opportunity to right all of our wrongs and make up for the past.”
Junior goalkeeper Tom Plesky was named tournament MVP as he turned away 12 shots in the championship game and made 17 saves against Bucknell in Friday’s semifinal.
Navy ran out of gas Sunday as it tried for it’s third straight comeback win. The Midshipmen fought to come back and beat Johns Hopkins in its season finale defeating the Blue Jays for the first time in 35 years. Navy had a chance to redeem what has been a disappointing season in the championship game after they came back and beat Lafayette in Friday’s semifinal.
However, Navy Coach Rich Meade said his team didn’t have the energy in Sunday’s final after a one-day lay off.
“It’s difficult to come from behind in a game like this. You’re working on a day’s rest and both teams are expending a great deal of energy. There’s a point where the margin for error is very, very slight and Army was good enough to put us in that position,” Meade said.
Army took a decisive lead with five unanswered goals in the second and third quarters to pull ahead 8-4 after the two teams had traded goals much of the first quarter.
Army will wait to see where it’s seeded in the touranment. Many are predicting the Black Knights will have to face the No. 1 or 2 seed since the Patriot League was perceived to have a down year.