BALTIMORE – Limestone won NCAA Division II titles in 2000 and ’02. Since, the Saints have been bridesmaids four times.
There was no second best on Sunday as fourth-year head coach J.B. Clarke saw his squad methodically dismantle LIU Post 12-6 to claim top honors at the 2014 NCAA Division II Championships at M&T Bank Stadium.
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Clarke’s group, who finished 19-1, trailed 2-1 after 15 minutes but scored seven goals and led 8-4 at the break.
“Our team played really tough [Sunday] for a long time, and that’s what we asked them to do,” Clarke said. “It’s a very unselfish team, truly a team this year. It’s one of those teams that wasn’t ranked very high coming into the season, not a lot of preseason All-Americans and all that, and I think that the greatest testament to who our team was this year was when our second midfield went out there.
“I think we went on a 12-year drought since the last championship, and it’s definitely something we were thinking about, and we’re happy we can win it and bring it back to Limestone for all these players.”
A pair of sophomores had strong days for the Saints — goalie Patrick Sheridan had 13 saves and Vinny Ricci led the offense with four goals and an assist. A trio of seniors finished their careers in memorable fashion; Todd Nakasuji and Josh Williams each scored twice and defender Anthony Starnino picked up seven ground balls.
“I really thought it started from our D-end, Pat Sheridan,” Ricci said. “He shut the door numerous times and he was able to move the ball up the field real quick; our D-middies were able to take advantage of that, Chris [Dill] and Jamar [Peete], they moved it up the field, and I was just lucky enough to be there to finish it off. It all started on the D-end.”
Ricci, a Canadian from Port Moody, British Columbia, finished with a team-high 44 goals in 2014. He is set to return for 2015 with fellow sophomores Mike Messinger (42 goals) and Kyle Rhatigan (35 goals) to give Clarke a potent group of attackers.
“Definitely part of what they said with the defense being a key,” Starnino added. “That and putting the ball in the back of the net makes it easy for us to make plays that we did to get the ball back to them. Watching them from the D-end, just move the ball well, put the ball in the back of the net, it gives us the relaxation that we need to just play our defense, understand that if we get the ball, we don’t get the ball, our offense is going to be there for us to get our back.
“Pat Sheridan, can’t say enough about the kid. Heck of a game [Sunday].”
LIU Post (11-6) made an unexpected run to the final, standing at just 6-5 after a loss to NYIT on April 19. A pair of wins at the East Coast Conference tournament lead to an NCAA bid and the Pioneers opened with a 9-3 win against 2013 NCAA champion Le Moyne. In the semifinals, Post beat Long Island rival Adelphi. On Sunday, however, a third national title since 2009 was not in the cards.
Twice, John Jez’s crew hit the post in the second quarter. The six goals were a season low.
“We’re a relatively young team and new guys stick together,” Jez said. “Maybe the excitement of the game and adversity in parts of that game … we tried to force things, we tried to force things a little bit, tried to get the points right away instead of playing our game and be a little composed.
“[Limestone is a] very good team on man up and once we had to fight back from that deficit in the second quarter, it was tough to overcome.”