by Tom Utescher
Ahead 6-3 early in the second quarter of their men’s lacrosse contest on May 7, the Chestnut Hill College Griffins appeared to be scripting a happy ending to their 2011 season. The visitors from Lake Erie College turned the plot of the tale in a different direction, outscoring the hosts handily the rest of the way to depart with an 18-12 victory.
Each team entered the match with a 3-6 record in East Coast Conference play, and afterwards both squads were 7-7 overall.
“You give up 18 goals and you’re not going to win,” stated first-year CHC coach Brian Dougherty. “They scored almost every time they had the ball in the second half. Our defense broke down in a number of different ways, and there might have been some poor game planning on my part.”
This was just the second season for men’s lacrosse at CHC, and all the players are freshmen and sophomore with the exception of one junior transfer.
“Today was tough, but I told our kids I was really proud of how the season in general turned out,” Dougherty said. “They played really hard, and beating teams like Mercyhurst and Dowling [ranked second and fifth in the ECC when Chestnut Hill defeated them] with a group of young players is an accomplishment.”
In the team’s final outing, Lake Erie played catch-up during the first quarter, going down 0-2 and then matching markers by the Griffins’ Kevin Festa and Mike Landau. Another exchange of goals made it 3-3 going into the second period, but then the Griffins jumped in front 6-3. Bart Pierre moved the hosts ahead and then Mike Melnychenko, who scored once in the first quarter, completed a hat trick before the second stanza was three minutes old.
Chestnut Hill had posted six goals in 18 minutes, but would need the rest of the game – another 42 minutes – to double that total. After their outburst at the beginning of the second round, the Griffins could not muster back-to-back goals.
“They sat in their zone and they stopped us, and they went on their three or four-goal run,” Dougherty remarked. “You’ve got to give credit to them and to their goalie [the Storm’s Alex Wisner had 15 saves]. He played pretty well.
“It just wasn’t our day,” the coach continued. “It wasn’t the shots or who was taking the shots; they just weren’t going in. Our leading scorer [Melnychenko] had five or six shots saved, and that hasn’t happened all year.”
After Lake Erie cut the lead to one goal in the middle of the second quarter, CHC went up 7-5 and was still ahead at the interlude, 7-6. However, the Storm’s goal at the end of the half proved to be the first of four consecutive strikes which thrust the visitors ahead, 9-7, less than five minutes into the third quarter.
The Griffins were unable to cash in during a man-up stretch in the middle of the period, but finally got their offense moving again when Melnychenko scored on a feed from behind the cage by Festa with 3:22 to go. The CHC defense kept giving up goals in little bunches, though. Two in the last 38 seconds of the third frame sent the Storm into the fourth quarter with an 11-8 advantage.
Chestnut Hill had the lead down to two points twice in the first five minutes of the concluding period (11-9 and 12-10), but Lake Erie dumped in six of the next seven goals to make it 18-11 with a little over two minutes remaining. Melnychenko got in his last licks with 1:37 on the clock to finish with a game-high five goals, but the winners received hat tricks from five different players. Festa accumulated six assists over the course of the afternoon, and he, Landau, and Pierre wound up with two goals apiece for the Griffins. Sophomore starter Dakota Maurer made a dozen saves in goal before understudy David Cutler entered the game in the final minutes.
“I’m going to let this sink in,” Dougherty said afterwards. “Right now, I didn’t want to talk to them about next year. We’ll start focusing on that on Monday.”
CHC’s skipper observed, “One thing you saw this season was that we could come out and shock somebody once in awhile, but to do well consistently in a strong league like this we need more good players. That’ll change next year; we have 13, maybe 14 kids coming in, and I’m looking forward to good things.”