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NCAA men’s lacrosse: Neighbors Cabrini and Eastern will square off in first round of Division III tourney

Monday, 7th May 2012

Categories Boy's/Men's, College, Posted 5/7/12
From Press Release

When the Eastern University men’s lacrosse team dropped a pair of early games this year, the coaching staff knew that if the Eagles were able to secure the Middle Atlantic Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that they would have to go on the road for the first round.

Will Johnson is met by teammates after scoring with 1 minute to play in regulation to force overtime in the MAC Championship Game.

What they did not know is that that road trip would only be about 30 feet.

The MAC Champion Eagles (13-4) will play their first NCAA Tournament game in program history on the other side of Eagle Road against the No. 6 Cabrini Cavaliers at 6:30 on Wednesday evening. The Colonial States Athletic Conference Champion Cavaliers (15-2) have not lost since dropping back-to-back home games to Dickinson and Lynchburg near the beginning of March.

In Cabrini’s 14-game winning streak, the Cavaliers have run roughshod over their most recent opponents. They started their streak with a close 13-11 win at Hampden-Sydney. Then they pulled away to a 7-3 win over Swarthmore College and an 8-1 win over Gettysburg. Since March 14, the only team to be within a dozen goals of the Cavaliers is Gwynedd-Mercy College in the a 13-3 CSAC Final.

The Eagles are also on a winning streak. Since starting league play in mid-April, Coach Wallace’s squad has reeled off seven straight wins. In that stretch, Eastern has played a pair of one-goal games including a thrilling 12-11 overtime win over Commonwealth Champion Widener on Saturday.

The two teams have four common opponents. Swarthmore beat the Eagles 8-7 in the season-opener, and Gettysburg, whom Cabrini beat at home, pulled away to a 10-6 win late over the Eagles in April. Both teams beat FDU-Florham. Cabrini beat the Devils 15-2, and the Eagles have a pair of wins over their Freedom Conference rivals. Their most recent win was a 15-6 result in the Freedom Championship game. Finally, both schools walked over an overmatched Rosemont team.

Cabrini carried the day by a large margin in the last time the two teams met in an official game, but that game, a 2008 Pennsylvania Athletic Conference Championship Game whitewashing, was only three years in for an Eastern program that had never had a winning record. Since joining the Middle Atlantic Conference, the Eastern program has matured into a group that expects to win. The Eagles are 41-23 over the past four years and 34-15 over the past three.

Only four Eastern players, Matt Wagner, Tim Dempsey, Joey Wilmot, and Dave Hoger were on Eastern’s roster in 2009. As evidenced by its performance in the MAC Championship Game, the group that came in and made an impact as freshmen in 2010, is very influential in the Eastern program. Led by goalie Aaron Benz, seven Eastern juniors were named to the All-Freedom team.

There are some similarities between the two squads that will lead to some interesting match-ups on Wednesday. Cabrini freshman face-off specialist Anthony DiNenno earned CSAC Most Outstanding Player honors in his first championship match, and he has won a stellar 70 percent of his face-offs. AJ Ryan’s numbers for the year are not quite as high (59.2 percent) for the Eagles, but the junior from Phoenixville has been on a tear as of late. He has been successful in 86-of-108 draws (79.6 percent) over the last five games. The battle at the X could prove to be very significant.

The two teams also look to their goalies as a backbone of very stout defenses. Eastern’s Aaron Benz stopped a season-best 19 shots in the MAC Championship. Cabrini also relies on a junior in Erick Zarzecki. Zarzecki boasts a stellar 4.29 goals against average and a very impressive 66 percent save percentage.

Cavalier attackmen Bobby Thorp (47 goals, 33 assists) and Brian Hill (40 goals, 28 assists) lead an offense that has scored 272 times in the 2012 campaign. Chris Farrar has 29 goals and 25 assists to lead a balanced Eastern attack that has scored 12 or more goals in six of seven games on their winning streak.

There was a time when the two neighboring schools met in every sport in league games every year. Many sports have kept the rivalry going, but Wednesday’s match-up, with a spot in the NCAA second round on the line means a whole lot more.

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