MANSFIELD, Conn. – Already assured of a No. 5 seed in the upcoming Little East Conference playoffs, the Eastern Connecticut State University men's lacrosse team gained early momentum with a five-goal run over five minutes in the first quarter and went on to edge second-seeded Plymouth State University, 12-10, Sunday afternoon on the final day of the regular season at Rick McCarthy Field.
Eastern (7-8, 4-4 LEC) brings two LEC wins in three days carries against fourth-seeded UMass Dartmouth in first-round playoff game Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. As the No. 2 seed, Plymouth (7-7, 6-2 LEC) gains a bye into the LEC semifinals Friday at the site of top-seeded Keene State College against the winner of a first-round match between No. 3 Western Connecticut and No. 6 University of Southern Maine.
UMass Dartmouth is the last team to defeat Eastern, 11-5, five days ago at Cressy Field.
Sunday, the Warriors countered Plymouth's game-opening goal with five of their own – the final three by sophomore Jake Liebowitz (Trumbull) in a span of less than four minutes – and withstood Plymouth's late push in the second half.
Eastern appeared to have broken the game open with three straight goals midway through the third quarter that vaulted it into a five-goal lead with 2:23 left in the third, but Plymouth answered with the final two goals of the third in the final two minutes, then opened the fourth with senior Casey Elkins' (Stow, MA) unassisted goal that cut the gap to 11-9.
With a chance to make it a one-goal game, Plymouth sophomore Erik Nome won the ensuing faceoff when Jake Burns corralled the ground ball, but the Panthers couldn't capitalize despite taking the game's next three shots, with Eastern junior goalie Jack Farrell (Stratford) saving one. On Eastern's next possession, Liebowitz scored off a pass from sophomore Kyle Cardoza (Waterford) to give Eastern an important a three-goal cushion with 6:25 left.
After junior Chuck Harrington's man-down goal with 4:39 got the visitors back to within two, but Plymouth had two turnovers and missed two shots in the ensuing minutes before penalties 22 seconds apart crippled its effort to pull the game out.
Liebowitz finished with career-highs of six goals and two assists, with senior Matthew Rougeot (Cheshire) adding three goals and junior Wes Thompson (Watertown) two goals and an assist. Farrell stopped 13 shots and held Plymouth off the board for a stretch of 8:35 in the first quarter with six saves while his teammates were building their decisive 5-1 lead.
Facing four different Plymouth faceoff specialists, Eastern sophomore Tyler Stein (Milford) won 16 of 23 attempts to boost his season percentage to just under 50 percent. Stein picked up seven ground balls himself, while junior Anthony Choronzy (Clinton) won five ground balls and defenders Tyler Koppy (Attleboro, MA) and Trevor Ross (Stratford) four each in helping Eastern to a +5 advantage.
Plymouth long-stick midfielder Harrington topped Plymouth with five ground balls and four caused turnovers.
At right: Jake Liebowitz (Photo by Erin Winsor)
Sophomore Connor Delea led Plymouth with three goals and an assist, Elkins contributiong two goals and an assist and senior Paul Luongo two goals.
Before the game, Eastern honored its three seniors -- all four-year members of the program -- competing at McCarthy Field for the final time: Rougeot, Ross and Jesse Bartko (Brookfield).