GAFFNEY, S.C. — A rematch of one of the tightest regular season games of the season for the Saints yielded the same result as Limestone (18-1, 4-0 CC) pounded out a 14-10 decision against Tampa to punch its ticket to the eighth NCAA Division II Men’s Lacrosse national championship game in program history.
The win also breaks the program single-season record for wins, surpassing the 2012 team that went 17-2 and reached the national championship.
Sophomore attack Kyle Rhatigan was cool as the other side of the pillow for the Saints as he assisted on three goals and scored three of his own while sophomore midfielder Mike Messenger scored four and assisted on another. Freshman midfielder Colton Watkinson notched a pair of scores and senior midfielder Jamar Peete and senior attack Todd Nakasuji each had a goal and an assist.
Helping to fuel that offense, as usual, was freshman midfielder Kevin Reisman — one of the best face-off men in the game. After experiencing a slow start that saw several violations, he dominated the center “X” with an overall 17 of 26 performance that included 11 ground balls. He is now averaging an incredible 10 ground balls per game and is winning exactly 70 percent of his face-offs.
Senior defender Anthony Starnino, who had a tremendous first outing against the Spartans, produced another stellar game this time around with five caused turnovers, eight ground balls, a nifty goal and an assist. Play in front of him like that made it easier for sophomore goal keeper Patrick Sheridan to be rock solid in goal. He played all 60 minutes and allowed 10 goals while making six saves to move to 18-1 on the season.
The Spartans got on the board early as Matt Bilak registered an unassisted score just four minutes into the game but Limestone would remain poised before exploding for four consecutive goals to make it 4-1 by the 2:41 mark of the first period. During that stretch, each of those goals came from different goal scorers.
Having taken it on the chin, Tampa responded with five of the next six goals, including the first with two seconds left in the first period, to flip the script and take a 6-5 lead with 1:54 left in the half. The Spartans wouldn’t keep it long, however, as Nakasuji took a pass from Rhatigan and buried it in the back of the net to tie it at 6 with 1:08 left. The teams would then take that deadlock to the break.
That would change, not only dramatically but quickly, as the Saints erupted for three consecutive goals in the first 3:15 of the second half to push to a 9-6 advantage before Tampa recovered and answered with back-to-back scores, cutting it to 9-8 at the 8:06 mark of the third.
Consecutive goals by Rhatigan and Messenger would stretch to a three goal advantage at 11-8 but, once again, Tampa came right back as Bobby Calhoun scored one goal and assisted on another to slice the deficit to 11-10 with 8:09 left in the game. There would be no third rally as Rhatigan, Messenger and Peete slammed the door with three consecutive goals in the final 5:51 to close out the 14-10 victory and punch their ticket to the biggest stage in Division II Lacrosse.
Calhoun delivered three goals, three assists and a pair of ground balls to lead the way for Tampa while Bilak finished with two goals and an assist. Nick Ferreiro, who missed the earlier meeting this season, had a pair of scores but was dominated on face-offs to the tune of 9 of 24 and had four ground balls. Jake Rooney and Kyle Hemrick had the only other scores on the day, each notching a solo score. Nate Tembi had five ground balls and Andrew Failla played all 60 minutes in the cage, allowing 14 goals and making seven saves to fall to 12-3 on the season.