Going into the D2 Men’s Lacrosse National Championship, there was only one thing we knew for sure. We would have brand new first time champion at the final whistle. Mercy and Tampa were both in their first lacrosse title game and this was also their first meeting overall.
In trying to assess what to expect out of this initial meeting, there was very little to glean from common opponents. They both played Seton Hill last month, each winning by a small margin (Mercy by one, Tampa by three). They also each faced Frostburg State, which Tampa beat by 10 early in the season while Mercy shared a conference with them so they met twice, resulting in a six and five point win.
Statistically, there was also very little separating these two teams. They were both in the Top 10 in D2 lacrosse in defensive scoring and scoring margin, but Tampa was overall the better team in nearly every category head-to-head. The easy narrative was that this was Tampa’s game to lose due to their undefeated record, but that does not give enough credit to the season Mercy had put together.
Tampa’s undefeated record included a double overtime win, and a handful of wins by fewer than three goals against ranked opponents. To Mercy’s credit, their only loss was by one to Le Moyne, which they ultimately avenged in the National Tournament semifinals to reach this point.
So what did we expect to happen here? Tampa would certainly be the favorite, but I would put my money on plenty of defense.
The other wild card at play is this being Tampa’s fist season under new head coach J.B. Clarke, who came over from perennial powerhouse and national title contender Limestone where he brought home several championship trophies in his time there. So while Tampa has had a nationally competitive program for several years, bringing in Clarke means the team instantly sets their eyes solely on playing the Sunday before Memorial Day in the D2 Men’s Lacrosse Championship game, and here they were.
The first quarter actually fit the script of a defensive battle pretty well. Both teams were taking every offensive opportunity they could, with Mercy players in particular paying dearly when they tried to get inside near the crease with the ball. Despite 15 combined shots, the teams went into the first break tied at just 1-1. Then, Tampa woke up.
Taking only 20 second into the second quarter to cause a turnover and trigger a fast break, Tampa’s Matthew Beddow kicked off a six-goal run spanning just seven minutes to blow the game open to a commanding 7-1 lead. The star of that particular run was midfielder Cole Willard, who had some incredible shots from the top center of the offense, including a man-up goal. But Mercy would answer back with a three-goal run of their own to keep this close. Ultimately, Tampa would go into halftime with a 8-4 lead and a strong feeling of momentum behind them.
Following the break, things slowed down once again, with only four goals between the two teams. Things also started to get more physical, resulting in three penalties being called in that period alone even though only two had been doled out in the entire first half. Even though Tampa scored two goals to keep their lead, both were on the extra man opportunities, and their second quarter scoring fury seemed to be fading into the distant past.
As the fourth quarter rolled around, Mercy’s Dominic Scorcia opened the scoring to bring things to 7-10 before his teammate Justin Gerdvil was sent to the box for a two minute non-releasable penalty for a huge hit at midfield following the ensuing faceoff. Mercy was able to burn the full two minutes, but the clock kept ticking away as they were unable to find the net again for the rest of the game.
Tampa’s defense stayed aggressive, but their offense was in full ice mode for the last eight minutes of the fourth quarter as they had their eyes on securing that championship trophy. Each Tampa possession just resulted in more and more time burning off the clock until there was nothing left for Mercy to work with.
When the final whistle sounded, it was Tampa’s gear all over the field as they hoisted the National Championship trophy behind a 11-7 victory for their school’s first title, capping off an undefeated season.