Lacrosse is widely referred to as a ‘game of runs.’ This NCAA Division II National Championship between Merrimack and Limestone was a prototypical example.
In just the purest sense, the teams traded just over a combined 30 minutes of clock time each going on a run. But it was Merrimack’s run that would prove to be the real difference-maker as they wound up winning the title by a score of 16-8 to make it two in a row. These were their only two titles in school history, as they exit Division II in style. Next season, the Warriors are joining the ranks of Division I. With the excitement of going Division I on their minds, they had to focus on this game first.
The first quarter was setting the stage for what felt like it would be a back and forth grinding game. Even though Limestone averaged nearly 18 points a game this season while allowing eight, the championship atmosphere always seemed to throw a wrench into things. Ending the quarter at just 2-1, it seemed like anyone’s game. Then the second quarter happened.
The second quarter was all Merrimack. Charlie Bertand and company went a seven-goal run starting at 12:41 in the second and ending in the third with 12:57 left. It was fueled by Bertand, who had with three consecutive assists to start the run and finished with four goals and three assists on the day. During this run, he was helped by two goals from Sean Black, and a goal each from Drew Hailey, Tyler Liantonio, Michael O’Connell, Seamus Ford and Christian Thomas. Limestone was completely unable to respond, and it created a gap that felt insurmountable.
Then came the third quarter, and Limestone did what you expect from a program like theirs. They came back.
After halftime, the early goal came from Merrimack’s Sean Black just under a minute in the third, but then Limestone answered with four of their own to pull within three 10-7. Unfortunately this was the closest they would ever come. This small comeback was fueled by who you would expect. Two of their top scorers on the season, Larson Sundown and Tyler Papa were the driving force. It started with a goal from Sundown off of a feed from Papa right on the crease for an ‘easy’ turn and shoot. Given how much the Saints relied on outside movement to setup shots, this sort of play truly fueled their momentum going forward. After that was a goal from Brian Huyghue, Papa and Matt Bennett. The total run last just about seven minutes, but in this span, the Limestone defense forced Merrimack into mistake after mistake. They were not able to generate any consistent offense. That changed.
With just over two minutes in the fourth, Charlie Bertrand answered with two back-to-back goals in about a minute, widening the gap to 12-7. Then, following a single man-up goal by Limestone, it was all Merrimack for the rest of the day. The win capped off what Merrimack Head Coach Mike Morgan described as a “weirdly poetic” way to exit the Division II level of college lacrosse. They were on the road for all of their games in the playoffs, and went one by one through historic powerhouses along the way. Mercyhurst, Adelphi, Lemoyne and Limestone. Those four schools, prior to Merrimack’s Division II National Championship last year, combined for 14 of the previous 20 DII titles.
After the game, Bertrand was justifiably awarded the game MVP award, but Limestone head coach JB Clarke could not have disagreed more. For him, it was the Merrimack faceoff unit, especially specialist Davis Cronin.
“We’re not used to losing faceoffs like we did. That only happened one other time,” said Clarke.
He continued to describe how it resulted in Merrimack having double the possession Limestone did. Clarke also attributed Limestone’s 15-minute drought to faceoffs.
“We lost faceoffs again. Silly turnovers. Biggest concern was, will we get enough possessions? It took so much effort to stop them on the defensive end. When we did, we threw it away, etc. We played too much defense to sustain that over long period of time.”
The mentality on the other side of the field was completely different. Merrimack goalie Nick Ponte said about responding to the runs that it was about “weathering the storm.” Ponte added that “We need to grind it out and the offense will take care of that”.
It goes to show that the makings of a championship team comes down to two things: trust and execution. Each part of your team need to trust the other that they will do what is needed of them. But then, they have to actually do it. In Merrimack’s case, they were able to do this in convincing fashion all over the field and are able to close out the Division II chapter of their program with a Division II National Championship like it was storybook.