The first game of the 2015 MCLA round of 16 matched two of the more under-the-radar teams in the MCLA tournament. The 16-0 Virginia Tech Hokies met the 16-4 San Diego State Aztecs under the lights at UC Irvine on Monday night.
This game would answer the looming question: Can Virginia Tech beat teams from the SLC Conference and other west coast elites? Hokie lax was determined to make statement and make their presence known in California.
Virginia Tech 9, San Diego State 7
The Hokies came out ready to go, as Alex Clough ripped a shot to the bottom right corner from a slim angle for the first goal of the tournament. The Aztec goalie literally did not flinch as the ball was placed perfectly. Joe Rittenhouse then made a nice move from behind the cage and finished top put the Hokies ahead 2-0.
The Aztecs would answer with a nice goal on man-up to cut the lead to 1 at 2-1. The Hokies bounced right back as Tim Nordbrook threaded the needle on a nice pass to Alex Clough who stashed the ball in the back of net to make it 3-1 Hokies. SDSU would not back down however, as Ryan Eberspacher put in his first of the night. Eberspacher would go on to tally a hat trick to lead the Aztec offense.
The Aztecs then took advantage of a transition opportunity as John Wilson stung one top corner from deep on the fast break to make it 3-3. The two teams traded goals to go into halftime with a score of 4-4.
During halftime, Coach Matt Schroeder stressed the “first 5 minutes” were the key to winning this game. Earlier in the year, the Hokies were tied with another tournament team Texas State 4-4 at half, and exploded for 5 straight goals in the first 5 minutes of the third quarter to seize control of the game. Tonight, they were looking for a similar response.
And the Hokies responded. Joe Rittenhouse executed a sweet split dodge from behind the goal and hit Ryan Palompo on the crease who buried it to make the score 5-4. Tim Nordbrook then dodged down the alley and made a nice shot on the run to make it 6-4. The Hokies kept it rolling as Palompo made another nice lefty dodge and ripped a shot to the top right corner to put the Hokies up 7-4.
The other story for the Hokies in the third quarter was the stellar defensive play. Behind the stellar play of Andrew Baird shutting down the top weapon of the Aztecs, John Wilson, the Hokies shut out the Aztecs in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was very sloppy for the Hokies as they tried to close out the Aztecs. Eberspacher was able to get top side and sting one early in the fourth quarter to give the Aztecs life at 7-5.
Ian Quinn had the answer with the Hokies as he pulled up on a fast break and ripped a shot to the top right corner from 18 yards out. The Aztecs answered right back to make it 8-6 with 8 minutes remaining.
The Hokies again thrived in transition as Wian Coetzer buried a shot in the top corner to put the Hokies back up 9-6. Coetzer and Quinn, two freshman middies for the Hokies, made the biggest plays in ensuring the victory for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies were able to close out the Aztecs by a score of 9-7 and move on to the quarterfinals. The defense was shaky at the end for the Hokies but Bryan Cooper came up huge in the cage to silence the Aztecs comeback bid. Cooper finished with 10 saves in the victory.
The Hokies’ offense was very balanced as seven different players tallied a point led by Joe Rittenhouse who recorded 2 goals and one assist. The Hokies were glad to grind out a 9-7 victory, but knew they would need a better performance to take down #2 seed Arizona State in the quarterfinals.
Virginia Tech 10, Arizona State 9
The quarterfinals matched the #7 seed Hokies up with the #2 seed Arizona State Sun Devils. Being the 2014 MCLA runner-up and having a lot of their pieces returning, the Sun Devils came into this year as one of the favorites to win the title.
Coming in, the Hokies knew that if they could play their game and contain All-American face-off man Zack Handy, they would be right there at the end of the game. Another key would be holding All-Americans Cooper Pickell and Dan Davis in check.
The Hokies came out of the gate fast and motivated to pull the upset. With an undefeated record of 17-0, the Hokies did not feel like an underdog and were determined to prove to the rest of the country that they belonged with the big-dogs.
It all started with freshman face-off man Bogdan Dragacevac; Dragacevac has been hanging under the radar all year, but made himself known to the whole MCLA with his impressive performance on Tuesday. When he secured the first face-off win of the game, there was a huge roar from the Hokie bench, and the Sun Devils knew that they were in for a dogfight.
The first quarter was the Ryan Palompo show for the Hokies. Though undersized, Palompo showed how tough of a matchup he is by tallying a hat trick in the first quarter and getting the Hokies off to a flying start. The first goal was a great dodge to the top side and a nice finish to bottom corner. His second goal was a nifty dodge from the invert behind the cage with a dip and dunk finish. And his third was a dodge down the alley with a tight-rope finish at the crease.
The next Hokie to get involved on offense was senior attackman Alex Clough. Clough ripped a deep one on man-up to put the Hokies up 4-1. He then took advantage of a short-stick matchup and burned his man behind the goal to finish with another dip and dunk on the crease to put the Hokies up 5-1.
The Hokie defense held strong through the first quarter only allowing one goal on a sloppy substitution. The Hokies led 5-1 after the one quarter. The tempo of play in the second quarter slowed down a little bit with the Hokies scoring just two goals. Virginia Tech held the lead 7-2 at halftime.
Coach Matt Schroeder warned the Hokies that the Sun Devils would not go down without a fight, and he was certainly right. The Sun Devils slowly inched themselves closer with a pair of goals from Cooper Pickell in the third quarter. The Hokies could not find a rhythm in the third and did not tally a single goal.
The fourth quarter was more of the same as ASU showed how resilient of a team they were. Pickell opened the fourth with a goal to complete his hat trick and Finn Wells followed with a nice finish on the crease to cut the Hokie lead to just 1 at 7-6. The Sun Devils then made a nice play in transition as long-stick midfielder Zach Long tallied his second goal of the season to tie the score at 7-7.
The Hokies took a time-out to regroup. Coach Matt Schroeder stressed that the Hokies just needed to breathe and relax. “We’re fine,” he said.
With the score tied 7-7, it was again Ryan Palompo who stepped up. He curled around the crease and finished strong inside to put the Hokies up 8-7. Cooper Pickell answered quickly with a nice feed inside to Finn Wells who finished to knot the score up at 8-8 with 8:45 remaining in the game.
Wells continued to make plays as he found Tommy Carasco on the crease who buried the goal to give the Sun Devils their first lead of the game at 9-8. After a critical injury to star defenseman Andrew Baird, the Hokies found themselves down 9-8 and reeling. The Sun Devils went man-up on a slash call with a chance to seize control of the game with less than 5 minutes remaining.
Bryan Cooper came up with a big point blank save on Dan Davis and the Hokies gained a key possession. Kyle Mancini then made a nice move to the inside and finished to tie the game at 9-9 with 2:11 remaining. The next face-off was key and Dragacevac was again clutch like he had been all day. He won the face-off and the Hokies called timeout with 2 minutes remaining.
Dragacevac went 14-21 at the X on the day, outplaying All-American Zack Handy.
The Hokies offense was strong when it needed to be as Conrad Unterkofler found Joe Rittenhouse on the crease for the dunk. The Hokies went on to win a thriller 10-9 and move on to their first Final Four appearance.
The offense was led by Ryan Palompo who racked up 4 goals and 1 assist in the victory. The defensive heroes were Brett Gallahan and Andrew Baird who gave the attack unit of the Sun Devils fits and led the charge for the Hokie defense.
Hokie lax moves on to play the Colorado Buffs, as they took down Georgia Tech in the 2nd Round. The Final Four matchup is set for 7:15pm PT on Thursday!