MARCY, N.Y. – The men's lacrosse program's impressive second-year campaign came to a heartbreaking close on Saturday. The team, which more than doubled its 2012 win total (the program's inaugural season) with 5 victories this year, fell to Hilbert in sudden death overtime, 12-11. The strange, cruel circumstances of Saturday's loss, however, hurt worse than the actual death blow: with a win, the Wildcats would have finished the season second in the conference, earning a 2-seed in the NEAC Championship Tournament; with the loss, the Wildcats are on the wrong end of a tie for 4th place with Morrisville State, and will therefore miss the tournament entirely (Morrisville State won the two teams' only meeting this year, giving them the tiebreaker over SUNYIT).
Nevertheless, the Wildcats played a fantastic game on Saturday, and have submitted a remarkable season for such a young program.
The game itself was a veritable title fight. The Hawks scored the game's first goal, as Sean Purtill found Shaughn Irving with 11:54 to go in the first quarter. Purtill would finish with a game high 5 assists.
Thanks to Kevin Gardrvits (Glen Cove, N.Y. / Glen Cove), however, the Wildcats quickly gained back the momentum. Gardrvits netted back-to-back unassisted goals, putting the team on his back in the early goings as the senior scored 3 of the team's first 4 goals, finishing the day with 3 scores and 3 assists.
In his final college lacrosse game, Gardrvits put on a tremendous show for the home crowd, drawing raucous cheers as he scored or assisted on 6 SUNYIT goals throughout the game.
Prior to the game, Gardrvits was recognized for his role in helping to build the fledgling SUNYIT lacrosse program. Joining him in the ceremony were seniors Karriem Rhode (Harlem, N.Y. / Manhatten Center), Chris Pace (Cortland, N.Y. / Cortland), Adam Reynolds (Johnson City, N.Y. / Johnson City), Kevin Robinson (Oswego, N.Y. / Oswego), Justin Shade (East Amherst, N.Y. / Williamsville North), Thomas Mokus (Cohoes, N.Y. / Cohoes), Derek Rowe (Mexico, N.Y. / Mexico), and Jon Eguren (Vitoria, Spain / Cicero-North Syracuse).
Notably, senior Jon Eguren added a goal for the Wildcats to start the 3rd period, rebounding a miss by Tyler Serva (Chenango Forks, N.Y. / Chenango Forks) to kickstart a 6-goal quarter for the Wildcats, resulting in the home team taking an 11-10 lead after being down 7-5 to start the half.
Coming up huge in the third for the Wildcats was SUNYIT super-defender Brett Gifford (Cazenovia, N.Y. / Cazenovia). The junior wowed the SUNYIT faithful all season with his defensive tenacity and unique proclivity for offense (Gifford finishes the season with 23 goals and 11 assists, absurd numbers for a long-stick), and after a quiet first half, Gifford exploded for 4 of SUNYIT's 6 goals in the third quarter. Gifford seemed to be clicking with his offense, finding open space in order to benefit from assists by Gardrvits and fellow junior Denver Babowicz (Marcy, N.Y. / Holland Patent), who finished with 2 assists on the day.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their heroic surge in the third quarter gave way to a scoreless fourth. The Hawks scored early in a rare man down situation, as Kyle Mackowiak netted the game-tying goal with 13:28. Neither team would score for the rest of the half, with the Wildcats making an impressive defensive stand in the last minute of the game to send it to overtime.
As he'd done all season, junior Tyler Serva came up big in overtime, winning the opening faceoff as SUNYIT standout defender Brett Gifford (Cazenovia, N.Y. / Cazenovia) picked up the groundball. But Gifford, who had barely missed a shot all day, was unable to convert an attempt to end the game, and as the Hawks started the other way a pallor seemed to fall on the home crowd: the visiting team had given SUNYIT trouble all game with their lightning fast transition offense, and in the way only sports fans can understand, the SUNYIT faithful seemed to sense the impending doom.
While the Wildcats were able to keep the Hawks from scoring on the fast break, just a few seconds into the offensive set the SUNYIT fans had their fears confirmed by a Sean Purtill goal. Purtill pulled a nifty backdoor move and received a perfect pass from midfielder Ian Holtby. The play set Purtill up with a one-on-one at point blank range, and while 'Cats goalie Jeffrey Melnik (Yonkers, N.Y. / Stepinac) had come up with a number of huge saves in the game, Purtill's move left him with the clear advantage, resulting in a 12-11 win for the Hawks.
As the SUNYIT team walked off the field they were greeted with a standing ovation, a seeming acknowledgement by the crowd of the incredible step forward Coach Brent Dodge's squad made in 2013.
The loss of senior starters like Gardrvits, Rhode, Shade, and Rowe will no doubt be a blow to the Wildcats. Gardrvits in particular led the Wildcats with 39 goals this season, first on the team by a wide margin. But Eguren and Reynolds still have eligibility remaining, and the return of standout juniors Gifford and Serva should give the Wildcats plenty to look forward to in 2014.