Stevenson beats RIT, 16-14, to capture Division III national championship

In the span of about 20 minutes, the Stevenson men’s lacrosse team went from easy winner to chagrined loser to eventual victor.

The No. 4 Mustangs gave up a three-goal halftime advantage, trailed by three after the third quarter, and opened the fourth frame with a five-goal run to outlast No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology, 16-14, in an NCAA tournament final at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

An announced attendance of 22,511 witnessed Stevenson extend a single-season record in wins to 22 – the team’s 11th in a row – in 24 contests and bring the university its first national championship in any sport.

“It’s a great feeling to be the first team at the school to bring something like this back, and also to be part of a school that’s growing like it is,” said senior attackman Tyler Reid, who recorded three points on one goal and two assists. “It’s a great team at Stevenson, that’s for sure."

Sophomore attackman Mark Pannenton scored a team-high five goals and was named the Most Outstanding Player. Senior midfielder Nick Rossi added two goals and two assists, senior midfielder Peter Green posted a hat trick, and freshman goalkeeper Dimitri Pecunes finished with a game-high 15 saves – including 10 in the second half.

Those players contributed to the Mustangs avoiding what might have been a crushing turn of events in the second half. Armed with a 9-6 advantage at halftime, Stevenson allowed the Tigers to score four consecutive goals in a span of 4 minutes, 7 seconds.

Pannenton converted a pass from sophomore attackman Pat Candon to temporarily stem the bleeding with 5:57 left in the third quarter, but RIT ended the period with three unanswered goals and a 13-10 lead.

But Stevenson ran off the final frame with five consecutive goals over a 2:27 stretch. During that spurt, sophomore midfielder Michael Crowe registered a goal and an assist.

Freshman midfielder Alec Sulesky’s goal off a runner down the right alley with 10:31 remaining helped the Tigers cut the deficit in half to make the score 15-14, but Rossi scored his second goal of the quarter when he curled around the right post and took a jump shot that went inside the right post with 5:07 left in the quarter.

Both teams ran out the remainder of regulation without a goal, and the Mustangs celebrated on the field.

“They definitely did make a great run in the third quarter after halftime,” Pannenton said. “We knew that was going to happen. We knew both teams were going to go on their own separate runs here in this game, and this game was definitely up and down. I think we just rallied up and really showed some heart there in the fourth quarter and showed we really wanted this today.”

Stevenson was flagged for a game-worst 11 penalties and 8:30 time – including a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct calls on coach Paul Cantabene that amounted to two minutes. RIT converted 4 of 10 extra-man opportunities, but that was all Division III’s top man-up offense could produce.

“We didn’t handle that third quarter really well,” Cantabene said. “I thought some adversity went to us, [and] I didn’t think we handled it well from the coaching staff to the players. Anytime you get a team going on a 7-1 run, you’re not doing things the right way. So we struggled there a little bit, but we handled it, we got in the fourth quarter and I think our mentality, we were able to calm the guys down, calm the coaches down and make the plays to win the game, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Sophomore midfielder Kyle Aquin led the Tigers (19-3) with seven goals, tying a championship final record set by Salisbury midfielder Sam Bradman in that team’s 19-7 rout of Tufts in 2011. Sophomore attackman Eddie Kiesa added six points on two goals and four assists.

RIT coach Jake Coon acknowledged that the team hurt itself by falling into a 5-0 deficit in the first 5:37 of the contest.

“More than a lot of games I’ve seen, it was back and forth all day, momentum shifts,” he said. “Unfortunately on defense, first of all, we came out slow. We came out a little starry-eyed, I guess, and that was a big concern of mine, and we kind of paid for it in the beginning.”

The Mustangs became just the eighth team to capture the NCAA crown in the 34-year history of the NCAA tournament. They also joined Salisbury and Washington College as the third program from Maryland to seize the title.

edward.lee@baltsun.com