From the Bleachers

From the Bleachers

 

 

 

 

From the Bleachers: A CAA Championship & Beyond

Wow!

If you were at the game on Saturday night, or heard about it, or saw the videos, then you know what I mean. Our Dragonlaxers would not be denied! How they did it was worth explaining, but the result was simply Wow.

We knew heading into the CAA Championship that Hofstra would be tough. They’ve been to 17 NCAA tournaments, were 8-1 at home this season and they beat us 11-9 earlier this year in West Philly. We’d seen them move the ball around and patiently work for their shot, mostly inside stuffs and backdoor plays, and we had seen their top-notch goalie deny us. We knew there would be a big crowd and we knew it was going to take everything we had to come out on top. We knew, they knew, and the rest of the lax world knew Drexel had fielded many solid teams over the years, and were almost without question the best team whom never made it to the Big Dance.

What we didn’t know was if under all the pressure, with the chips down, under the bright lights, trailing by three late in the fourth quarter - for the second straight playoff game - whether our team could muster The Fire one last time to get over the most difficult of hurdles. What we didn’t know was if our seniors would lead and if our underclassmen would shine. What we failed to fathom was the drama that would unfold and how, despite losing our minds in the bleachers, our boys who became men this season would stand tall and come through in the clutch.

Big Ben McIntosh played like the All-American he was last year and will be again.  Like the CAA Player of the Year and Tewaaraton candidate by taking his game from rocket-launcher to feeding machine. Yes, Big Ben led the CAA in goals this season (42 heading into the game) and Hofstra knew it too. Thus, a pole followed him everywhere but the locker-room at halftime. Draw & Dish was the recipe and Big Ben acted as the master chef serving up 4 assists to go with his 1 goal.

Fellow senior Nick Trizano, a warrior who fought through injuries for most of the past two years, came through in the big game by jamming in a hattrick and sacrificing his body time and time again. On one sequence in the first half a shot was ripped and ricocheted off our sprawling goalie Will Gabrielsen to midfield.  Cole Shafer snagged the ball as he was being crushed by two Hofstra defenders out of bounds and somehow shoveled the rock backwards to a sprinting Triz who went hard to the goal and slammed it in. Triz was also hit and sent flying, only to roll and pop up with hands extended knowing the ball went in by the sound of our crowd and the confidence of a true attackman. Every Dragon on that play laid out and was rewarded. It's plays like this that you look back on and see they made a difference in an even game.

The same could be said of the unsung heroes like Tyler Houchins who guarded the CAA assist leader and First Teamer Sam Llinares, holding him to 1 point, just as he did against other stars this year (see St. Johns, Penn St., UMass, and Towson twice) and Matt Dusek, both of whom had 3 ground balls each. Those seniors showed once again a sense of urgency that resonated with the underclassmen. The short stick D partnership of Klunder, Klunder, Clark, & Pynn played their roles like NFL cornerbacks and safeties, getting the job done with almost no stats to prove it.

Less than five minutes remained and Hofstra led 10-7. Did we weather the storm or was it another solid year for Drexel that would come oh-so-close?

We suggested this was a team of destiny in past columns, and not just because we are fans and eternal optimists, but because the 2014 version of Men’s Lacrosse at Drexel is a well rounded squad, deep with talent at both ends of the field and in the middle. With 4:37 to go this proved correct as Big Ben found freshman sensation Shafer for his fourth goal of the evening. Nick Saputo, our star face-off stud, had his hands full during the contest yet when we needed him most he came through and kept the momentum in our favor leading to Triz score a minute later at 3:15 in the 4th quarter. Triz’s unassisted goal made it a 10-9 game.

And who would step up and tie the game? How about the guy who took control in the last playoff game against Towson to win it in overtime? That’s right, Ryan Belka. After another Saputo face-off win Belks went lefty down the left seem and when there was no decent shot circled back and went righty, whipping it past Hofstra keeper Chris Selva, a second team CAA selection.

Very little gets written about Goalies in this modern era where games are usually twenty-plus goals combined, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Selva played great. The junior made several saves from in close. But our goalie, sophomore Will Gabrielsen, made more saves (13 to 9), including 9 in the first half, and outshone his more documented counterpart. Those 13 saves put Gabrielsen #9 in the country for total saves and atop the CAA now the dust is settled. Selva and Gabrielsen played excellent on this night. To score, both teams needed to earn it.

In the first OT another underclassmen, sophomore Miles Thomas, had a caused turnover that kept the game alive to a second OT where Gabrielsen made a stop by remaining disciplined by hugging the pipe to thwart a Mike Malave rip. Remember Gabrielsen making a stop in the second OT versus Penn State to force a third OT victory? I bet his teammates do. Clutch by anybody’s standards.

Now in the 3rd OT we find Saputo again gobbling up his 10th ground ball on his 11th face-off win. After a smart timeout by Coaches Voelker and Ford, we see a new wrinkle, sophomore Jules Raucci, our ankle-breaking Middie, behind the net dodging a Hofstra shorty. Jules bolts hard to his left, and then swims right, just enough to get his hands free to fire the ball to Cole Shafer.

Shafer has had a memorable season. His no-look-over-the-head shot in the third quarter was ridiculous. I mean how many Drexel alums can claim to have 50 points in their freshmen season? Not many. And none have had the pleasure of cranking a low to high whippy in triple OT to win the school’s first CAA Championship and Automatic Qualifier to the NCAA Championships. Shafer did not disappoint. Indeed, Cole Shafer is now a legend in West Philly....

But is that it? Are we done? Hell no!

We not only get to play another game, we avoid a plane or bus to hostile environments like Denver, Notre Dame, Maryland, Virginia, and Loyola. Our Dragonlaxers get a pseudo-home game at Franklin Field against the Ivy League Champions, UPenn.

Like Drexel, UPenn made it to the NCAAs with hard work, talent, and sheer will. Penn has one of the only teams in recent memory who do not platoon their middies, using several lines of two-way, old school athletes who can stop at one end and shoot at the other. This will be a challenge for our offensive stars who will inevitably have to play D. Penn has Ivy League Goalie of the Year Brian Feeney, who like Gabrielsen, is from Summit, NJ, and Feeney’s twin Danny will keep Saputo busy at the face-off X. This game will be one for the ages.

In the end, no one can take away what our Drexel Dragons have accomplished in 2014. We are CAA Champions and the school’s first group to make it to national TV in the playoffs. They have shown Fire, grit, determination, leadership, tenacity, and clutch performances time and time again.

We started counting at 8 games to a NCAA Championship, and now that number is cut in half. Four wins and our team sits atop the lax world. Almost impossible to fathom just a couple months ago when we sat with a 4-4 record. Impossible for the outsiders, impossible to the skeptics and non-believers. Not impossible for those of us who always believed. We said we’d need senior leadership, stars to shine in the critical moments, with coaching and goaltending the tipping points. So far, so good.

Of course, it all starts with one game at a time. One epic contest on ESPNU whose national audience will see the Drexel Dragons for the first time this year, and for most, the first time ever. If we play our game, scoring 11+ goals, and hold our opponents to 10 or less, we will be going to the quarterfinals in Delaware.

Let’s show America what we are made of. Let’s keep playing. Let’s keep winning. Few expected us to be here in the first place, so we are playing on house money as a heavy underdog. Let’s shock the world and give lax fans a new team to route for.

Congratulations Dragonlaxers on what you have accomplished. That is set in stone. But we are not finished yet. Breathe Fire Dragons!!!

- Anonymous Dragonlax Fan

 

Calling all Drexel Alumni - the boys need your support at Franklin Field.  They feed off the energy of the crowd and why not take over Franklin Field.  Hell, it used to be our home field in the dog days of winter before Vidas had turf.  Meet at Landmark Americana at high noon on the outside patio.  For $25 we've arranged a spread of hoagies, chicken fingers, wings & hot dogs to go along with the delicious brews from our sponsor Yards Brewing Company, Coors Light & well drinks.  To quote my former high school coach, "If you're not in, you're out."  Well not really, but since the game will be on ESPNU expect there to be fewer tweets from @WPFLACROSSE although we'll try to get some pictures of the historic day out to our fans.  Go Dragons.