BALTIMORE — A seven goal second quarter and stellar defense led No. 2 Limestone (19-1, 4-0 CC) back to the top of the lacrosse world as they defeated No. 7 LIU Post (11-6, 6-2 ECC) 12-6 to claim its third NCAA Division II national championship on Sunday. The Saints won their two previous titles in 2000 and ’02
“What an honor to be here,” head coach J.B.
Sophomore attack Vinny Ricci earned Most Outstanding Player with four goals and an assist while senior attack Todd Nakasuji had a pair of goals, an assist and three groundballs. Senior midfielder Joshua Williams added a pair of scores and sophomore attack Kyle Rhatigan finished with a goal and two assists.
Senior midfielder Joey Rotolone, freshman midfielder Colton Watkinson and junior midfielder Calyl Robinson each added a solo goal and freshman attack Anthony Quiles notched a pair of assists.
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Senior defenseman Anthony Starnino finished his career in style as he delivered seven groundballs and an impressive five caused turnovers in front of sophomore goal keeper Patrick Sheridan, who played all 60 minutes and allowed just six goals while making 13 saves. He improves to 19-1 on the season, extending his own program record for wins in a year.
With a title game pitting a pair of teams known for their outstanding defense, it came as no surprise that the first quarter would be a defensive battle. Matty Beccarris got the Pioneers on the board first as he connected for an unassisted score just 1:37 in before Joey Rotolone ripped one from the right side extended to knot it at 1-1 at 10:51.
The teams would go scoreless for nearly the next six minutes before Post’s Anthony Berardis broke the deadlock with his 21st goal of the year at 5:09. The teams would then return to their defensive ways as they headed to the end of the frame with the Pioneers up 2-1.
The second quarter would be the complete opposite as the Saints came out firing on all cylinders on offense as well as defense. They would outscore LIU Post by a 7-2 margin to flip the script entirely and go ahead 8-4 by the half. Ricci got the ball rolling off a pass from Quiles to tie it at 2-2 (13:32) before Post’s Ryan Slane scored two minutes later to give the Pioneers a 3-2 advantage.
From there, Limestone delivered three consecutive scores as Ricci (8:04), Williams (6:16 from Ricci) and Nakasuji (3:49, man-up from Messenger) each found the back of the cage for a 6-3 lead at 3:49. Beccarris answered back with a score just 18 seconds later to cut it back to two before two more Saints goals in the final two minutes by Ricci (1:59 from Rhatigan) and Willams (0:43) sent Limestone to the break with their four goal margin.
The third quarter would see the teams return to a defensive mentality but not before Colton Watkinson made it 9-4 with an unassisted score at 13:37. The teams would then remain scoreless for the next 8:58 before Chris Caiazza connected at 2:39 to make it 9-5. Just under a minute later Rhatigan got that goal back as he took a pass from Quiles and deposited it in the back of the net for a 10-5 lead heading into the fourth.
Neither team would be able to capitalize offensively during the first 6:54 of the final frame, but when one did it would be Limestone with back-to-back scores by Nakasuji (8:06 from Rhatigan) and Ricci (7:24 from Nakasuji) to push to an insurmountable 12-5 advantage. Connor Mackay would add a final goal for the Pioneers at 2:23 to reach the final margin of 12-6.
LIU Post, which did not score consecutive goals during the game, was led by Beccaris with a pair of scores and Slane with a goal and an assist. Notching solo goals were Caiazza, Berardis and Mackay and Dom Mantovani went 10-of-21 on faceoffs with seven groundballs. T.J. DiCarlo played 59:25 in goal and allowed all 12 goals while making 14 saves to fall to 10-5 on the year.
A number of the Saints, Nakasuji and Starnino among them had played on this stage before, with a different outcome.
With the win, Limestone surpasses its largest margin, win or lose, in the national championship game. Their six-goal margin passes their 11-9 win against New York Tech in 2002 as well as a 9-4 defeat to Tech in 2003. The Saints 19 wins not only extend a program record for a season but are also the most by an NCAA Division II national champion, surpassing a pair of 18 win seasons by Le Moyne.
“Especially for me and Anthony, I know we were here in 2012 on the team that went up to Boston and ended up losing to a team we had beat the week before,” Nakasuji said. “We had a bitter taste in our mouths and just knew this time as seniors we were going to do whatever it took. We came up here, business trip, we were going to win the championship this time and we got it done.”
Limestone closes its 25th season with an overall record of 19-1 and the words every team in the country would like to have by its name in the history books — national champion.