PHILADELPHIA – The Saint Joseph's men's lacrosse team knocked off #12/11 Bryant, 9-7, in Northeast Conference action to earn the program's first win over a nationally-ranked opponent in program history on Saturday afternoon at Sweeney Field. With the win, the Hawks improve to 8-3 overall and a perfect 4-0 in the NEC.
"I give all the credit to my players," said head coach Taylor Wray following the win. "They started the game great and they finished the game great. They got the job done. I don't know what to say. I'm speechless at this point. Bryant is a great team. To beat one of my mentors in coaching, Mike Pressler, a guy who, in a lot of ways, is responsible for me being in the position I'm in now, it's a really special day. They're a heck of a team. I'm just really proud of my guys."
Tied 6-6 entering the fourth period, freshman attackman Ray Vandegrift dished a pass to redshirt junior attackman Ryan McGee, who fired his shot past Bryant goalkeeper Gunnar Waldt to put the Hawks back ahead, 7-6, just 1:17 into the final 15:00.
Bryant (9-3, 2-1 NEC) won the following face-off possession, and the Bulldogs' Collins Gantz fired off a rocket on goal, but Saint Joseph's freshman goalkeeper T.J. Jones made the only save he would need to make in the fourth period to maintain the Hawks' lead.
"T.J. is a quality goalie," said Coach Wray of the rookie's performance on Saturday afternoon. "We got a group of quality goalies on our team. T.J. got the start today He's a big-game goalie. He's played in big games before. His team won the New Jersey state championship. He doesn't shutter in the moment there. He did a great job. He made a couple of big saves for us at the end and a big save man-down when we had a three-minute penalty. That's what you need from your guys. Players make plays and they did that today."
Following that save, SJU successfully cleared the ball down field and proceeded to fire off eight consecutive shots, with the eighth being the difference maker. After Vandegrift fired a shot wide, freshman attackman Michael Rastivo grabbed the ground ball and tallied his 13th goal of the season to extend SJU's lead, 8-6, with 7:32 remaining in regulation.
Neither team would add another goal over the course of the next six minutes until Bryant's Colin Dunster registered one for the Bulldogs with just 1:28 left to play.
Saint Joseph's freshman midfielder Danny Manning would win the game's most crucial possession on the following play. After an SJU shot wide, Bryant called a timeout. Coming out of that timeout, freshman midfielder Anthony Joaquim took advantage of an empty Bryant net and put his shot in the back of it with just 48 seconds remaining in regulation to extend SJU's lead back to two goals, 9-7, with under one minute to play.
Bryant would win the following possession on a face-off violation on Saint Joseph's, but Dunster's final shot would sail high as the Hawks came away with the upset.
To start the game, the Hawks took off on a 4-0 run to begin the scoring. Senior midfielder Johnny Simanski scored the game's first goal just 1:30 into the first 15:00. The senior finished the day with a goal and assist to lead the Crimson and Gray to victory.
"It feels amazing," said Simanski following SJU's win. "Coming from where we've come from, each year building up more and more, it's amazing. I can't describe it. I'm so happy for everybody. The guys and coaches, we've all worked so hard in the offseason and during the season. It's just great for all of the hard work to come to success."
Leading 1-0, junior defenseman Will Farrell caused a Bryant turnover, picked up the ground ball, and raced all the way down the field before firing off his first goal of the season to extend SJU's lead, 2-0, with 8:41 left in the first period. Junior attackman Kyle Bruun scored SJU's third tally of the first and sophomore attackman Pat Swanick scored his seventh goal of the season just minutes into the second as the Hawks jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead.
Bryant would take advantage of an SJU penalty to record a man-up goal at the 10:19 mark of the second, but Vandegrift and freshman midfielder Evan Wolf would score back-to-back SJU goals within two minutes of one another as the Hawks extended their lead to five goals, 6-1. The tally marked the first of Wolf's collegiate career.
The third period would tell a different story, as Bryant scored all five goals over those 15 minutes. The Bulldogs tallied a pair of goals to start the third and to bring Bryant to within three, 6-3.
SJU's Manning would then be called for an illegal check to the head at the 8:21 mark, which forced the Hawks to play a man-down for a full three minutes without opportunity for release.
Bryant scored a pair of EMO goals with 22 seconds of one another, to pull to within one, and Shane Morrell netted his third goal of that run with 3:48 left in the third to even the score, 6-6.
For the game, Saint Joseph's owned a dominating 43-20 advantage in shots, including a 26-7 edge in the first two periods combined. Bryant held a 28-21 edge in ground balls and won 13-of-19 of the game's face-off possessions. The Hawks forced the Bulldogs to turn the ball over 16 times; SJU itself turned the ball over just nine times in a full 60:00.
Simanski (1G, 1A) and Vandegrift (1G, 1A) led nine different Hawks in scoring. On the defensive end, Farrell picked up a team-high four ground balls and caused a team-high four turnovers while Manning went 6-of-17 from the face-off X on the day.
Jones (2-1, 1-0 NEC) made seven saves in a full-game effort for the win.
Saint Joseph's returns to action next Saturday, April 12 at Delaware. Opening face-off for the non-conference contest in scheduled for 1:00 p.m. at Delaware Stadium.
GAME NOTES: Saint Joseph’s University formally dedicated Sweeney Field during a ceremony prior to the start of the game... The dramatic expansion of the field includes the addition of 2,300 seats, a stone facade featuring bronze Hawk statues, protective netting, a full-service press box and enhanced sound system. Formerly Finnesey Field, the new name recognizes the contributions of Sean S. Sweeney ’94 (MBA), a member of the University’s Board of Trustees and the lead benefactor to the expansion project, which significantly enhances the gameday experience for student-athletes, fans and friends. Originally opened in 1929, the field currently serves as the home of Saint Joseph's men's lacrosse, in addition to the women's varsity lacrosse team and men’s and women’s varsity soccer teams.