The night-capper for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference semifinals round pitted Manhattan College men’s lacrosse against a team they had yet to figure out this season. Ultimately, this year’s runner-up, the Siena Saints, got the last laugh at Gaelic Park, winning 11-8 and proving to be road warriors at the expense of the top seed Jaspers.
After an uneven first 30 minutes, Manhattan rallied in the third quarter to knot the score at 6-6 with Siena heading into the final stanza. Senior midfielder James McCoy scored twice in the third quarter for Manhattan, which included the game-tying goal on an extra-man opportunity with a minute left. The assist was credited to fifth-year attacker Dan McKinney who fired in the fifth goal moments before that for the Jaspers.
“When we had them play our style in the third quarter, it was 3-0,” Manhattan head coach John Odierna said on the field postgame.
The momentum turned in the fourth quarter as Siena outscored Manhattan, 5-2, over the final 15 minutes. The Saints wasted no time regaining the lead, as freshman R.J. Ihlefeld’s goal a little over two minutes in made it 9-7. The Jaspers came within one on a finish from junior attacker Quinn Bowler but it proved to be their last real jolt with 10:48 left on the clock.
On this night, the Jaspers left more to be desired with their scoring chances in front of the net. Missed opportunities piled up for Manhattan, who were unable to take advantage of extra-man opportunities afforded from Siena penalties. Manhattan had three such opportunities down the stretch, but simply could not find enough ways to beat the Siena defense. Two Manhattan turnovers in the final five minutes was the nail in the coffin.
“We played hard enough to win,” Odierna said. “Just at times there were plays to be made and those went to the team in green tonight instead of us.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, Siena graduate students Rocco Santillo and Christian Watts went back to back almost a minute apart to clinch the final score. Santillo had three goals, and last season’s MAAC Rookie of the Year Pratt Reynolds added his own hat trick. Watts, an All-MAAC second team recipient, delivered two goals from his stick.
Manhattan fought hard to put themselves in a position down the stretch, erasing three deficits to even the scoreline each time.
But ultimately, the Siena attack propelled the visitors to a higher level. At times, Siena was content with flexing a defensive muscle by outdoing the Jaspers in their own preferred facet of the game.
“They got life in the fourth quarter and started their run with a few broken plays in between the lines,” Odierna said. “That’s their style.”
Siena lost to Marist, 12-7, in the MAAC championship game on Saturday morning at Gaelic Park. Before that, the third-seed Red Foxes defeated two-seed Mount St Mary’s, 19-7, in the first game of the doubleheader on Thursday. Marist followed up Manhattan’s automatic bid in 2022 to earn their own bid for this year’s NCAA Tournament as a result of winning the MAAC.
With the loss, the Jaspers closed out Odierna’s first season at the helm with a 10-5 record overall including a 7-2 mark in conference play. There are plenty of positives to glean from this season. There was the Jaspers once again finishing in the upper ranks nationally in defensive metrics. They also finished fifth in man-down defense and their clearing percentage on penalty kills was second best. Those things have become staples under the 34-year-old Odierna, who joined the staff seven years ago to be the defensive coordinator, his first Division I job.
“I learned a lot,” Odierna said. “Moving the stuff from the cube to the desk in the office was a little bit different. But you have to be the CEO and oversee everything.”
Odierna believed in Joe Persico after the fifth-year goalie sat on the bench for three seasons after transferring from University of Utah. Persico stayed patient, watched and learned from former star keeper, Brendan Krebs, and produced a nation-leading clip of eight goals allowed per game.
“I think it’s a huge testament to Joe and the type of guy he is,” Odierna said. “He was one of the best stories in college lacrosse this season.”
So was Manhattan, as a team, under their newly minted MAAC coach of the year. Manhattan had five All-MAAC performers, led by senior attacker Kyle Gucwa, who finished his campaign with 25 goals and 28 assists for a team-high 53 points.
And good news for Jaspers fans is that a team which already had solid experience is projected to return almost everyone. Gucwa and many others plan to use their fifth year eligibiilty granted by rules instituted during the pandemic.
“Manhattan is still rising,” Odierna said. “We have to go back to the drawing board and go for it next year.”