It was a fierce battle between No. 2 Rockhurst and No. 3 Westminster in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship semifinals. The Hawks swept the Griffins during the regular season, but Westminster won the game that mattered most to advance to the finals.
The score was tied nine times and the lead changed five, leaving very little room for error for either team. Rockhurst turned the ball over twice within two minutes during the fourth quarter, and Westminster scored both times for a 14-11 lead. The Hawks recovered by scoring the next three goals to tie the game. Kyle Williams won an important faceoff, and Lane Kadish scored his 43rd goal of the year for the game-winner.
Westminster trailed by two at the end of the third quarter. The Griffins were outshot, 13-6, and turned the ball over six times. Goalie Conner McFarlane made two saves to keep the game close.
The Griffins started the second quarter strong and scored twice in the opening four minutes to tie the game at four. Christian Pompoco assisted Chance Beutler for the team's first goal. Rockhurst turned the ball over twice to give Westminster extra chances at goal. Bridger Fisher came from behind the goal and scored his first of the game.
Rockhurst wasted no time and within 30 seconds regained the lead then restored its two-point lead a couple of minutes later. Another turnover by Rockhurst resulted in a tripping penalty. With the man-up opportunity, Westminster scored as Blake Gross assisted Nick Marcy. Fisher scored his second goal to tie the game a second time.
The Hawks and Griffins each scored one more time to finish the half tied at five.
Kadish scored a few minutes into the third quarter to give Westminster its first lead of the game. Thomas Sarjeant scored shortly after for a two-goal lead. Westminster successfully defended a man-down moment but gave up a goal shortly after returning to full strength. Rockhurst used that small bit of a momentum change to score two more times, within two minutes, for the lead again.
The lead flip-flopped from Rockhurst to Westminster and back to Rockhurst during the next five minutes. Fisher completed his hat trick and tied the game for a third time, 10-10, in the dying seconds of the third quarter.
The Hawks scored 14 seconds into the fourth quarter. They won the next faceoff, but a turnover led to a goal by Marcy who managed to score while off-balance and falling to the ground. Another face-off win and turnover by the Hawks gave the ball back to the Griffins who kept possession after two missed shots but scored the third for the lead. Westminster converted two more Rockhurst turnovers for a three-point lead, its largest of the game.
Rockhurst evened the score with three-consecutive goals and 2:31 remaining. Westminster trailed, 24-5, in faceoffs. Williams came up with a big face-off win that led to Kadish scoring the game-winner, 15-14. Williams won the next faceoff, and Westminster was able to take 40 seconds off the clock before turning the ball over. With 1:03 remaining, McFarlane made a game-winning save.
"No losers in a war like that," head coach Mason Goodhand remarked. "One team just ran out of time at the wrong time."
Rockhurst won the face-off battle, 24-9. Westminster was able to neutralize some of the wins with relentless pursuit and pressure, forcing turnovers and preventing the face-off win from becoming an offensive opportunity. Rockhurst turned the ball over 18 times to Westminster's 16.
Both goalies were in excellent form. Westminster took 45 shots and was denied 10 times by Alex Pfiel, Rockhurst's goalie. McFarlane faced 40 shots and came up with 10 saves.
Sarjeant led the team with five points, three goals and two assists. Fisher was second with four points, three goals and one assist. Kadish and Pompoco recorded three points. Kadish completed a hat trick with three goals, and Pompoco tallied a trio of assists.
Marcy scored a pair of goals. Brad Belasco, Kolton Atkinson, Beutler and Cole Flinders each netted once. Gross recorded one assist.
The Griffins collected 31 ground balls to the Hawk's 38. Williams led the team with five ground balls and won 9-of-29 faceoffs. McFarlane was second on the team with three ground balls, and 16 Griffins picked up one or two ground balls.
Westminster advances to the finals and will play the winner of the Colorado Mesa vs CSU-Pueblo game. The game is Saturday, May 5, at 2 p.m. You can watch the game on the RMAC Network or follow it on live stats. Links can be found on the Westminster men's lacrosse schedule webpage.
Eric Stephens is the Director of Athletic Communications and Events for Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. Westminster is a provisional member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference at the NCAA Division II level.