Newport News, V.A. (NEWS10) — The #8/10 Union College men’s lacrosse team scored the first six goals of the game and sophomore Dan Donahue made the lead stand up with 16 saves as the Dutchmen advanced to the first national championship game in program history with an 11-8 victory over #6/5 York (Pa.) University in the semifinals of the NCAA Div. III Championships on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Jennings Family Field.
The victory advances Union to the Division III national championship game next Sunday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. As if there was any other opponent to possibly stand in the way, Union will take on Liberty League rival Rochester Institute of Technology, who beat Tufts University 26-15 in the other semifinal, for the national title beginning at 1 p.m.
The national championship appearance is the first in Union lacrosse history and the first for any Union team since the football team made their second appearance in the Stagg Bowl in 1989. Union has never won a Division III national title, with the men’s hockey team capturing the 2014 Division I national title and the 1929 men’s lacrosse team voted as co-national champions.
“It’s a surreal feeling and I’m really proud of this program and the players,” said head coach Derek Witheford ’11. “We’re grateful and we’re really excited to be playing RIT in the national championship game.”
Just as the team has done all season, Union (18-2) spread the offense around on Sunday. Nine different players scored a goal and no player had more than the two goals of seniors Peter Burnes and Hayden Frey. The pair finished with three points and sophomore Zach Davis was the only other player with multiple points with a goal and an assist.
At the other end, Donahue came up huge with 16 saves, as the Spartans outshot the Dutchmen by a 44-32 margin but were continually stymied by a Union defense that limited the chances around the crease and allowed Donahue to make the stops needed.
“The first half our defense was fueled by the offensive possessions we were getting,” Donahue said. “The second half, we knew York was going to score some goals and we just had to weather the storm.”
After playing the late semifinal game in 90-plus degree heat yesterday, Union looked like the fresher team on Sunday, outscoring York 6-0 over the first 11:04 of the game to take command early. Senior Ryan Puglisi set the tone in the opening minutrs by taking a clear attempt into the offensive zone and firing home just the second goal of his career 3:15 into the contest.
Back-to-back faceoff wins by senior Sam Byrne and sophomore Matthew Paolatto led to goals from senior McCann and Frey that quickly tripled the Union lead in less than 90 seconds. After a York turnover, senior Owen Toland continued the run with a goal from Burnes that forced a York timeout.
The Spartans had a chance to get back in the game with a man-up chance, but Donahue made a big save and senior Jack Donahue buried a chance on the other end to continue the run. Frey made it a six-goal game with 3:56 left with his second of the game before York got one goal back late in the quarter.
Burnes and senior Matthew Georgiades scored in the second quarter to build up a game-high seven-goal lead with 4:18 left, but York would not go away. The Spartans got one goal back before halftime, then outscored Union 3-1 in the third quarter to get within four. The Spartans held all the momentum after scoring the first two goals of the fourth frame, but Davis recorded a huge tally with 9:52 on the clock to get the Dutchmen back on track.
Donahue made four saves to keep it a three-goal game before Burnes sealed the contest, first by diving to keep possession for Union and eventually finding the net with 2:12 remaining.
Union and RIT have a long history, but the last 20 games have gone the way of the Tigers. There’s no better place to potentially end that streak than in the final game of the season.
“We’re very familiar with them, and I think we’ve got a good shot,” Witheford said. “We’ve just got to do it and get that monkey off our back, and the national championship game is a pretty good spot to do it in.”
Check UnionAthletics.com this week for more information on the Division III national championship game.