Junior Eric Saltrelli (Webster, NY/Webster Schroeder) has had some clutch performances in his career for the Keuka College men's lacrosse team, but Saturday, facing rival Morrisville State, Saltrelli put together a masterful game that led the Storm to their first-ever NCAA Division III tournament appearance.
Saltrelli turned away 10 shots for his sixth double-digit save game of the season as the Storm (14-0) remained perfect with a convincing 13-5 triumph over the Mustangs in the North Eastern Athletic Conference's (NEAC) postseason championship game.
Saltrelli was named NEAC Tournament MVP after stopping 24 shots in the two wins. The top-seeded Storm, the four-time defending NEAC champions, earned the NEAC's automatic qualifier into the NCAA tournament.
"I was definitely surprised to get tournament MVP, but I'm glad I got it and I'm definitely glad our team found a way to win today," said Saltrelli, who earned second-team All-NEAC during the regular-season.
"This was a big game for us and I get really motivated when we play big games. I have a great defense in front of me, and that helps tremendously. I saw the ball really well. Once I get hit with a shot, I'm in the zone and nothing is going past me at that point."
Saltrelli had a lot of help in the championship. Freshman Jamie Kuppel (Liverpool, NY/Liverpool) scored a career-high four goals with four groundballs, junior Cory Gray (Seneca Castle, NY/Midlakes) had two goals with two assists and senior Connor Latimer (Whitby, Ont./Father Leo J. Austin) had one goal with two assists as the Storm won their 26th straight game dating to the start of the 2013 season.
Sophomore Matt Beebe (Syracuse, NY/LaFayette) added one goal with two assists, junior James Voigt (Penn Yan, NY/Penn Yan) had two goals with one assist and classmate Marc Sacco (East Syracuse, NY/East Syracuse-Minoa) collected six groundballs and caused four turnovers in the win.
Senior Zachary Koczent (Geneva, NY/Geneva) won 11 of 21 faceoffs and also had four groundballs while Latimer added five groundballs and Gray had four groundballs as the Green and Gold enjoyed a 43-29 edge in groundballs against the Mustangs (13-4).
"We had to focus on our matchups, and groundballs played a big part in our game today," Sacco said. "We did a good job with possession on offense while trying to keep them away from the ball as much as possible. Scott Miller did a great job with his matchup and we did a great job locking off with our short sticks around the crease. It was a pretty physical game, but it was a good, hard-fought, championship game where everyone was playing hard."
Voigt staked the Storm to an early 1-0 lead, firing in a shot to the far side of the net 1:25 into the opening quarter. Voigt then fed Beebe for a 2-0 lead halfway through the opening quarter, and the score remained 2-0 heading into the second.
In a man-up situation, Gray found Kuppel on the far side of the goal area, and Kuppel buried his shot just 29 seconds into the second for a 3-0 lead.
Morrisville State got on the scoreboard three minutes into the second, when John Sherlock scored an unassisted goal to slice the lead to 3-1.
Neither team scored again until the last two minutes, when Latimer set up Kuppel for his second goal of the game. Kuppel fired a shot from in close that settled into the top left corner as the Green and Gold took a 4-1 halftime lead.
Keuka College tacked on six third-quarter goals as Voigt and junior Derek Pfeiffer (Lee Center, NY/Rome Free Academy) each had man-up tallies. Gray scored twice and Latimer and Kuppel each added goals as the Storm took a 10-3 lead into the fourth and cruised to the win.
Koczent and freshman Dustin Springer (Liverpool, NY/Liverpool) each added goals during the fourth to seal the win and send the Storm faithful into a celebration on a wet day at the Jephson Community Athletic Complex.
The Storm must now wait to find out who their first-round NCAA opponent will be. Regardless of the opponent, Sacco said he and his teammates are ready for this new challenge.
"I'm stoked for an NCAA appearance," Sacco said, smiling. "This was a great team that I joined, but now, we're not even a team anymore; we're a family. We've got each other's backs out there and everyone has my back. We're all so excited for this great chance to play in the NCAA tournament."