By Michael Otero
The men’s lacrosse team opened up the season as the three-time defending East Coast Conference Champions. They didn’t play like it to start though; losing their first two games by a combined eight goals. “We always play a tough schedule and, this year, we started with the no. 3 and no. 4 ranked teams in the nation,” said head coach John Jez.
“Our program realizes that it’s how you finish, not how you start, that decides who will be the conference champion,” he continued. Truer words were never spoken. Jez’s team heard the message, as the Pioneers hoisted their fourth straight ECC Championship on Saturday, May 7.
Before they could get to the ECC Final though, they had some work to do.
Hours before their conference semi-final victory over no. 13 ranked Mercy College on Wednesday, May 3, the team had 10 players named to the All-East Coast Conference Team.
Representing the first team from the Pioneers was senior attacker Ryan Slane, senior midfielder Anthony Berardis and junior midfielder Anthony Galeotafiore.
On the second team, senior attacker Matt Bellando and graduate midfielder Jeremy Morgan earned recognition on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, juniors Shane Sweeney and Ryan Stern and sophomore Joey Denaro earned the same honor.
The second-team though was headlined by Matty Beccaris. The senior attacker broke the LIU Post goal-scoring record against Mercy College, (a record that stood for 51 years), and currently ranks in the top-10 in the conference in goals and points this season.
Last, but not least, junior goalkeeper Matthew Liantonio was given the nod for the third team.
As for the game itself, the no. 6 ranked Pioneers upended Mercy College by a score of 12-10. The two sides played about as even as you could through two and half quarters. Tied at eight, the Pioneers scored three consecutive goals in just under a five minute span to grab an 11-8 lead. Scoring were sophomore midfielder Dylan Harned, Bellando and Slane.
Although Mercy rebounded and cut the deficit to one goal, the Pioneers held their ground and got a momentum boost when senior goaltender Adam Winne made an incredible save. Following the save, Slane put a cap on the game with an empty net goal, his fifth of the day.
Slane and Harned shared the Pioneer lead in points, with five apiece, while Bellando also had a solid performance, totaling four points and a hat-trick.
The Pioneers returned to the field on Saturday, May 7, to host the ECC Final against no. 7 ranked NYIT. In the matchup, the Pioneers came out victorious and won their fourth straight ECC Championship, with a 12-11 win.
It was a tight contest until the Pioneers broke away ever so slightly in the second quarter with two goals to lead 7-5. The goals came courtesy of Slane and Bellando. The hosts added another tally after the halftime break to grab their largest lead of the game at 8-5.
Although they looked like they were in control, the Pioneers left the door open a crack and NYIT pounced on the opportunity. The once three-goal Pioneer advantage was trimmed to one at 10-9, but Bellando answered the attack with two counters of his own. He scored twice to inflate the Pioneer lead to three once again.
With the Pioneers up by three late in the fourth quarter, NYIT battled its way back once again and cut the lead to 12-11 with a minute left to go. NYIT had a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime, but Winne made one of his season-high 15 saves to preserve the Pioneer victory.
Bellando netted five goals on just six shots while Morgan had a four point outing in the win. Defensively, Stern scooped up four ground balls and forced two turnovers to help the Pioneer cause.
“They know what it takes to win,” Jez said of his players after the game. The current group of seniors has won four straight ECC titles and will look to continue their winning ways in the NCAA Division II Championship on Saturday, May 14 in North Andover, Mass. The Pioneers earned a no. 3 seed in the tournament and will take on no. 2 seeded Merrimack College. Earlier in the season, the Pioneers dropped a 12-10 game to Merrimack, but have since gone on an eight game winning streak.