PHOENIX -- The Arizona men’s lacrosse team bounced back from a loss to Minnesota by defeating Grand Canyon on the Lopes' home turf, 10-9, with just seconds to spare.
Luke Liljenstolpe scored with 34 seconds left in the contest against Grand Canyon to give the WIldcats in-state bragging rights.There were three big differences between the two games, according to Arizona coach Matt Blamey.
“Zero penalties in the GCU game as opposed to 10 penalties versus Minnesota," he said. "We cleared very well and limited unforced turnovers. In the Minnesota game we did poorly in both categories. We changed practice format last week and it paid off. The guys executed better on the field for sure.”
Arizona hopped on the board first as the Wildcat defense got a stop and quickly transitioned for Liljenstolpe's first goal of the game off a dime from long-stick middie James Offerman.
The GCU Lopes would give Arizona trouble on faceoffs for most of the day. Just 30 seconds after winning the next draw GCU scored to tie it up 1-1
A minute after winning the next faceoff, GCU would score again with 10:40 left in the first to take a 2-1 lead.
The Lopes would continue the pressure at X and attack, firing waves of shots at the Arizona goal. As he did in the first game of the year, goalie Tom Atella was a dancing bear in the cage, knocking down shot after shot.
The defense was solid through the rest of the first quarter and repeatedly turned back the pesky GCU middies and attack. That included a skyrocketing defensive middie Jaxson Spar going airborne to snatch a steal.
“Tommy Atella was stellar in cage. Our defense stepped up big time only allowing three goals in the entire second half,” said Blamey.
The second quarter started with a chippy GCU defense hacking at gloves and sticks and generally harassing the Arizona offense. After GCU won the first faceoff of the second quarter, GCU’s Cameron Gilmore would ditch his defender on the crease to give them a 3-1 lead. Gilmore would be a pain, sucking his defenders out and then dropping them with quick cuts and screens, finishing with four goals this day.
Offerman stepped in to win the first faceoff for Arizona thus far in the game, but again the Lopes peppered the cage and scored to go up 4-1. You could sense the game might be slipping away from Arizona. However, Peyton Boyd raced around from behind the cage to score followed by Isaiah Blomgren ripping the net from up top.
Halfway through the second quarter and the Cats had clawed back to trail 4-3.
Offerman again wins the faceoff and heads for the goal, swarmed by the GCU defense. He goes down under the pressure but managed to get the shot off and in the goal. But not before a last-second timeout was called by Arizona.
“I had to! They were all over him!,” Blamey explained.
The Arizona defense was air-tight, forcing GCU to turn over more than a few possessions because they were unable to get a shot off before the shot clock expired. The Cats were also settling in with their clear. But as it is in this sport, one misstep and you could be toast. In fact, a GCU cutter would get clear and score from ten yards out. Ten seconds later GCU scored again to go up 6-3.
Here’s another factor keeping the Cats in the game: confidence.
“Most of our losses over the past two seasons have been just by one to three goals,” said Blamey. “We were at a familiar point when we were down to GCU, 6-3. The players could've had a 'here we are again' mentality, but they didn't. They fought hard and mounted the comeback. I think that confidence gained will pay big dividends moving forward.”
With 90 seconds left in the first half, DePaola got it done himself, breaking free to score an unassisted goal and setting Arizona trailing 6-4 at the half. DePaola dodged in from the top to score in close and bring the Cats to 6-5 deficit.
GCU did not fold, but Atella was playing superbly. Arizona responded with lots of passes knocked down and key ground balls including one that DePaola dished to Boyd for a game-tying goal, 6-6.
Just 30 seconds later and Greg Scholz fires a worm-burner to give the Cats a 7-6 lead. With less than five minutes in the third quarter, defensive middie Ryan Van Wert grabbed the ball and goes coast-to-coast to feed a hungry Max Bergamo for an 8-6 Arizona lead.
With less than five minutes in the game, Bergamo came up with the ball and dumped it to DePaola for a crazy cross-body shot on the crease, tying the game 9-9.
Bergamo found Liljenstolpe camped out at the top of the box that was stuffed home with 34 seconds left in the game, for a 10-9 advantage.
GCU called a time out, no doubt to give Gilmore another shot. But it was not to be thanks to Arizona’s defense.
“Our defense stepped up big time only allowing three goals in the entire second half,” Blamey said.
Boyd and Offerman led the team with three ground balls each. Bergamo led the team with three assists. Liljenstolpe and DePaola each had two goals and an assist.
Next up for Arizona is a road game against Utah Valley on Saturday, March 20.
by Jeff Herr