No. 2 Stevenson scored three goals in the final 12 minutes to pull away and defeat No. 4 SUNY Cortland, 10-8, in a key Division III mens' lacrosse game Saturday.
It was a tightly contested game for three quarters until freshman midfielder Tony Rossi took control with two straight goals, the first with 13 minutes, 24 seconds remaining and the second with 11:42 left. Mustangs senior midfielder Ray Wittle scored with 8:58 left to complete the scoring and finish off visiting Cortland (4-1).
Stevenson (8-0) has had to endure a recent tough three-game stretch, which also included Lynchburg and Roanoke. The tough schedule continues Wednesday when the Mustangs host top-ranked and defending national champion Tufts.
"I think this was a postseason game," said Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene. "Both teams played very tight at times, and both teams were very physical. [The officials] let us play, and this was a good barometer for us to play in this type of game. We didn't always have the lead and we had to fight back. We've got a lot of things to work on and we learned a lot about ourselves."
Just about every lacrosse fan in the country knew the Mustangs signed one of the top midfielders in the country last year in Rossi, and he proved it again Saturday. With Cortland ahead 8-7, Rossi took a clearing pass just before midfield, ran to his right, rolled back to his left, and tossed a shot through the legs of the goalie to tie the score at 8 with 11:43 remaining.
With 9:06 left, Rossi hit a runner down the right side to give Stevenson a 9-8 advantage and the lead for good.
"On one, I was just thinking, 'Get the ball over the midfield line, and then see what happens from there,'" said Rossi, a Calvert Hall product. "Then I saw an opening and just took it. On the other, I cleared the ball, split right and just put it between the goalie's legs."
Rossi finished with three goals, while Jimmy Dailey and Neal Barthelme each had two. Junior attackman Mike Tota had three to lead Cortland, which managed to stay close in the game at the end because the Mustangs kept committing turnovers off clearing attempts.
Stevenson had 21 turnovers, including eight in the fourth quarter.
"Our poles struggled at the end. If we could have cleared the ball, this game would have been over ten minutes ago," Cantabene said. "But we will take a look at it, analyze it and fix it."
The game was a tale of two styles. The Red Dragons wanted to control the pace of the game with their deliberate, methodical approach. Stevenson prefers a faster pace and wants to produce more goals off the transition.
The game was tied at 3 at the end of the first quarter, and Cortland took a 6-5 lead into the half as Jay DiStefano converted a goal just outside the crease from the right side with two seconds remaining in the second quarter.
The score was tied at 7 at the end of the third, but Tota put Cortland up 8-7 to open the fourth on his final goal of the game with 13:26 remaining.