CCBC-Essex dominated top-seeded Onondaga Community College offensively yesterday, scoring seemingly at will en route to a 22-11 win in the first of two semifinal games at this year's National Junior College Athletic Association tournament.
However, it was what the fourth-seeded Knights (11-3) did on the defensive side of the ball that proved to be the difference. Sophomore Billy Sadtler recorded 23 saves, 13 of which came in the second half to shut down the visiting Lazers (16-2).
"I thought it was awesome," Sadtler said. "They got a couple early goals, but we didn't get down. We just kept fighting all game. I just see the ball and react, that's all I do."
While the pairings may have indicated that Essex was an underdog, Essex coach Brian Duncan never doubted his team's ability.
"I have a lot of respect for their program. They've worked their butts off to get where they got. I think we were just more prepared and we were ready and intense," he said. "I said before the game that the team with the most intensity would win, and that's what happened."
Essex, which won the championship in 1991 and 2004, will try to become the first Maryland school to successfully defend its title today against second-seeded Herkimer County Community College (16-2). The Generals defeated Nassau Community College (8-9) in the tournament's other semifinal. Herkimer last won the championship in 2003 and has eight titles.
Sophomore attackman Jon Beard, who has committed to the University of Maryland for next season and is a top candidate for Player of the Year, led the Knights with five goals and three assists. Jim Kleb and Evan Kay had four goals each.
AJ Vaughan led Onondaga with four goals, and Steve Kazimer had two goals and four assists.
After an aggressively played first quarter that left the score 5-4 in Essex's favor, the teams traded goals for the first several minutes of the second when Kay scored his second goal of the game to make it 8-6 at the 7:35 mark. The Knights began to turn the tide after that and scored four consecutive times to close the half, giving them a 12-6 lead heading into the break.
"I think it was our [7-2] second quarter that really put us in charge," said Duncan, who was last season's Coach of the Year.