Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/15/21 – From Press Release
Ninth-ranked Rutgers used a 3-0 second quarter to create separation, and the No. 8 Lehigh men’s lacrosse team couldn’t pull any closer than three in the second half as the Mountain Hawks dropped a 12-5 final in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at UVA’s Klöckner Stadium.
Junior faceoff specialist Mike Sisselberger (Southern Lehigh) won 15-of-19 faceoffs with 11 groundballs, finishing the season at 79.5 percent – a new NCAA Division I record. He also finished the season with 160 groundballs, a new Patriot League and program mark.
“Obviously disappointed to come out with a loss today, but I thought our guys really battled hard,” said Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese. “We were trying to slow them down a little bit today. They’re so good at getting out in transition and I thought we did a good job [at containing them]. I thought we gave ourselves a fighting chance.
Senior James Spence (Springfield-Delco) finished with 17 saves in a strong effort, as did Rutgers’ Colin Kirst (who played four years at Lehigh before transferring to Rutgers for his fifth year).
“At the end of the day, their defense was outstanding,” said Cassese. “Colin played really well in goal. Thirty-four combined saves. I’m really proud of both those guys.”
In the process, Spence eclipsed 500 career saves, becoming just the fourth goaltender in program history to reach that mark.
Offensively, junior Cole Kirst scored one goal on his brother, but five of Colin’s 17 saves also came against Cole. Saturday saw three Kirsts suit up (also Rutgers’ Connor, who scored three goals).
Sophomore Justin Tiernan scored one of his team-high two goals just 1:02 into the contest, but the Mountain Hawks scored just twice in the next 49:25. In the starting lineup due to an injury to Lehigh’s leading scorer Tommy Schelling, freshman Scott Cole evened the score at two with left in the first quarter.
Rutgers created separation in the middle quarters, holding a 3-0 edge in the second and 3-1 advantage in the third. Cole Kirst pulled Lehigh within 6-3 with 5:12 left in the third, but that’s as close as the Mountain Hawks would come. Sophomore Ryan Niggeman scored his first-career goal at 9:33 of the fourth and Tiernan added his second a few minutes later, but it wasn’t enough. The Scarlet Knights scored five times in the stanza to pull away.
Final shots were 42-35 in favor of Rutgers while the Mountain Hawks held a 31-30 edge in groundballs. Lehigh was 19-of-20 on clears.
“I’m proud of the way we cleared the ball,” said Cassese. “The last couple games, we really struggled to clear it. That was a major point of emphasis for us this week in practice. I thought we did an excellent job. At the end of the day, Rutgers deserved to win the game. Congratulations to them and we wish them the best of luck moving forward.
The Mountain Hawks end the season with a 10-2 record, including a perfect 9-0 mark against Patriot League opponents. Lehigh earned the No. 1 seed in the league tournament and the league’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament – the program’s first appearance since 2013.
“Proud of our guys,” said Cassese. “I thought they did a great job all year. Obviously, we were playing the opponents that were on our schedule, but we were also playing COVID all year and I thought our guys did a really great job handling everything. They sacrificed a lot to put us in position to get back to the stage.
“I’m just a really proud coach. Wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other group.”