FOXBORO — Merrimack’s run through the NCAA Division II lacrosse tournament included wins over league-rivals Le Moyne and Adelphi, the two teams that handed the Warriors their only losses of the season.
In Sunday’s national championship game at Gillette Stadium, the shoe was on the other foot. Merrimack, appearing in its first national championship game, fell to Limestone, 11-9. The Saints (21-1) avenged their only loss of the season against the Warriors from last month, and in the process won the program’s third national title in the last four years.
In the end, it was a 17-second run in the third quarter where Limestone scored three goals and took a lead that sank the Warriors.
“I’m proud of these guys and our effort today,” said Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan. “You know, the goal now is to be back here next year. These guys helped us get closer to it, and I wish like hell we could have won it for these guys and for the team.
“We’ll spend hours looking at the film, I’m sure, but overall it wasn’t from lack of desire, it wasn’t from lack of effort or heart or anything that coaches will throw around and these guys exuded.”
Limestone scored just 1:31 into the game but the Warriors answered less than a minute later with Charlie Bertrand’s 52nd goal of the season. Later in the quarter, Chris Clancy gave the Saints a 2-1 lead but the Warriors tied the score 12 seconds later off the stick of Max Allen.
Bertrand, who had 52 goals on the season including his first-quarter score, was held scoreless for the final 48 minutes after being banged up with a hit from behind early in the first quarter.
“We rotated two guys on their big lefty attack man, No. 6, Charlie Bertrand, who’s fabulous,” said Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke. “He’s going to be a thorn in everybody’s side for the next three years. What a player.”
Merrimack scored first in the second half, when John Bassett struck for his 23rd goal of the year just 1:57 into the third quarter.
After that, the Saints took over and it was sparked by a devastating 17-second span that saw the Saints score three goals to take a 7-6 lead.
Colton Watkinson scored with 12:19 left on the clock. Kevin Reisman won the ensuing faceoff and Charle Sheehan potted the game-tying goal just 10 seconds later. Then, after another Reisman win on the faceoff X, Ryan Maciejewski found the net just seven seconds after Sheehan’s goal to give Limestone a lead.
It would turn out to be a lead the Saints would never relinquish.
In the quarter, Limestone won all seven faceoffs.
Kevin Reisman, Limestone’s faceoff man, won 17 of 24 on the game. He’s heralded as the best faceoff player in the country, matched up against Merrimack’s Blake Boudreau, who is an All-American in his own right.
“Blake is all-American,” said Morgan. “He’s a great face-off guy, and we threw Daniel Loprete at him, who’s a great face-off guy. We triple poled the midfield, which is the first time we’ve ever done that in a face-off. He had a special day. He’s a special player. He’s the Player of the Year for a reason. You know, he’s tough.”
Brendan Smith scored with 6:47 left in the quarter to make it 8-6 and Tyler Papa gave the Saints a 9-6 lead with 2:26 to play in the third.
The Warriors showed no quit, though.
At the 2:39 mark of the fourth quarter, Seamus Ford cut the deficit to 9-7 on a man-up goal and Kyle Stenberg made it a one-goal game with 11:40 left on the clock, again on a man-up goal.
“We definitely had a little momentum going,” said Merrimack senior Max Allen. “Once you get one, then you can build that confidence and get two and start feeling it a little bit, the crowd starts getting into it, and then a couple pipes here, a couple big saves by their goalie, and we just didn’t bury the ball when we needed to. ”
Just under a minute later, the Saints would get one of those goals back when Ben Higgins found the net. Then with 6:27 left in the game, Dale Cornetta gave Limestone it’s three-goal lead back and the Saints continued to control most of the game’s possession.
Tim Towler cut the deficit to 11-9 with 3:33 left, but on the heels of faceoff wins, the Saints would be able to survive the final few minutes to capture the championship.