With two minutes left on the clock at DaSilva Memorial Field on Saturday, the home sideline was already jumping around and raising their sticks in the air, sensing their first victory of the season.
With a four-goal lead, all the St. John’s lacrosse team had to do was survive a final array of Penn State shots before carrying the ball into the Nittany Lions’ territory to run out the rest of the clock. When they did so, all 40 Johnnies mobbed each other in front of their net to celebrate their 11-7 win.
After accepting some post-game congratulations, second-year head coach Jason Miller stood much taller with the weight of a winless season off his back. For Miller, this victory was long overdue for such a hard-working and dedicated team.
“Intensity was never the issue for us,” Miller said. “Every time out we’ve been ready to play. The difference today was we got off to a good start; we weren’t digging out of a hole. It’s a lot easier to play that way. It’s just hard to play with a lot of enthusiasm when you’re down.”
St. John’s was only down once, in fact. Penn State took the early lead with some artistic offense. Nittany Lion’s Matt Loy took a pass and scored on a behind-the-back shot while on the run to put Penn State up 1-0. The ensuing face-off would set the tone for the Red Storm throughout the game.
Senior face-off specialist Jack Rosson knocked opposing players away and scooped up the ball, made a beeline for the Penn State net and scored his fifth goal of the season. Rosson finished the day 11-for-21 at face-offs, but Miller credited the team’s quick start to Rosson’s dominating play early on.
“He got off to a really good start,” Miller said. A scouting report recognized Penn State’s tendency to run with the ball off the face-off and Rosson was able to neutralize that method of attack. “He’s been good for stretches, but this is the first time he’s been very good for 60 minutes,” Miller said about Rosson.
Another key in the victory was converting man-advantage opportunities -something St. John’s has not done well so far this season. The first of three power-play goals came while Penn State was serving a slashing penalty, when senior Justin O’Donnell found some space and put the Johnnies up 2-1.
The first quarter ended with St. John’s and Penn State both scoring one more.
Up 3-2, St. John’s failed to kill their first man-down situation. It took Penn State’s Max VanArsdale only eight seconds into the cross-checking penalty to tie the score at three.
The teams traded goals for the better half of the second quarter St. John’s received goals from Rob Gannon, who finished with a hat-trick, and Tom Michaelsen, while Penn State scored two of their own.
After Penn State committed another slashing penalty, O’Donnell assisted Trevor Michaelsen’s tenth goal of the season. A minute later, Trevor’s twin brother, Tom, netted his second of the day. St. John’s headed into halftime with a 7-5 lead.
Penn State scored quickly in the third, but the Red Storm offense remained resilient. O’Donnell scored again, finding an opening in the left side of the net.
Penn State’s slashing problems continued and Gannon scored his second after being left open in the middle of the field, sending St. John’s into the fourth quarter with a 9-6 lead.
With a three-goal lead and starving for a win, the fourth quarter strategy was laid out by Miller. “We just talked about being disciplined and not making mistakes, and we were able to do that,” he said.
Penn State did cut the lead to two when senior Bubba Scott zigzagged his way to the net, but a comeback was not to be. junior Malcolm Miles picked up a loose ball in front of the Nittany Lion net, and extended the lead back to three. And finally, Gannon had the last word, scoring his third.
St. John’s relied on keen possession of the ball and stellar goalkeeping throughout the game. Sophomore goalie Gavin Buckley got the start on Saturday and recorded 11 saves, most of which came at pivotal points in the game and allowed St. John’s to hold the lead.
“[Buckley] gave us the spark we needed,” Miller said. Dan Goldberg, the team’s regular keeper, got the day off.
“Danny has done a pretty good job,” Miller added. “I just felt that sometimes at that position, if you make a change, it can give you a spark.”