Second-ranked Navy didn't need to win the Patriot League men's lacrosse championship yesterday to secure its first NCAA tournament berth in five years.
But in their maiden season in the conference - the Midshipmen did just that. Barely.
In a helter-skelter game that included nearly 60 turnovers, Navy fended off a furious late rush by Hobart to prevail, 9-8, and gain an automatic NCAA berth before 1,222 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. .
The victory was the 12th of the season for the twice-beaten Midshipmen, breaking the school record for a season.
"It was a great `field' game with a lot of ups and downs," said Navy coach Richie Meade. "We couldn't slow our guys down. They were like horses. We couldn't hold them back. I don't think we played our best game, but I feel good. We don't have to sneak around about the NCAAs and ask, `Are we gonna go?' "
Despite only one point from the starting attack (an assist by Ian Dingman), Navy took a 9-4 lead a little more than three minutes into the third quarter. Tournament Most Valuable Player Steve Looney's second goal capped a three-goal run that appeared to put Navy in control.
The 19th-ranked Statesmen (8-6) survived a sloppy exchange of turnovers that followed, cutting the deficit to 9-6 by the end of the quarter and then using goals by Nate Hill and Nate Molinari to pull within one with more than 11 minutes remaining.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Dan Valente (Mount Hebron) and his defense, led by Greg McCarthy (who kept a careful check on Dingman), prevented Navy from putting the game out of reach early.
The last of 25 Navy turnovers gave Hobart two final chances to tie within the last minute, but Mark Williamson's attempt went off the goal post and Hill was wide just before the clock expired.
"I knew what he [Williamson] liked to do," Navy goalie Matt Russell said of Williamson. "I felt we were going to get him."
"It was a tough one because the ball came out and sat in front of the crease," Williamson said. "A couple of guys swung at it and missed."
"A lot of people were nervous about this game," midfielder Ben Bailey said. "They were thinking we wouldn't come in with a lot of energy knowing we were already in the [NCAA] tournament. That wasn't the case."
Navy's depth and the riding ability of its midfielders were crucial down the stretch as Hobart tried to win for the first time in their four-game series.
"They're very good at what they do," Hobart coach Matt Kerwick said. "They're a hard riding team. And when we were shaking hands after the game, I was wondering when it was going to end. They've got a lot of guys."
With faceoff specialist Chris Pieczonka available only if necessary because of an injury, William Wallace and Tommy Wallin won 13 of 21 draws for Navy, which wasn't crisp either on offense or with its ball control.
"We didn't have good patience or value the ball very well," Meade said. "We were playing like it was supposed to be easy."
"It sort of brought you back to the style you played in high school. We got to run and gun a little," said Graham Gill, who paced Navy with three goals.
Goals: H-Hill 3, Williamson 2, Molinari 2, David; N-Gill 3, Horn 2, S. Looney 2, B. Looney, Bailey. Assists: H-Hill 2, Keough, Scanlon; N-Dingman, Gill, Harris, Horn, B. Looney. Saves: H-Valente 15; N-Russell 9.