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Navy men's playoff hopes dashed with 14-9 loss to Army

— In the end, Navy head coach Richie Meade had to face reality, because there isn't a lot left for his lacrosse team.

After a strong first-half performance, Navy was outscored by eight goals in the second, as Army rebounded for a 14-9 victory before a crowd of 8,059 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Saturday.

The loss was the third in a row by Navy (4-8) to Army (8-4) and the worst defeat in the 90-game series since losing 15-8 in 1996. The Middies are now out of contention for the four-team Patriot League tournament for the first time since 2004, which means they have no shot at an NCAA playoff berth.

The only game left is next week's showdown with No. 3 Johns Hopkins.

"Reality, we have to embrace reality," said Meade, whose school leads the series against Army, 57-30-3. "We are where we are. We have a good team, but obviously we're not good enough. We had control, but we had it taken away, which is a credit to Army. We did some good things today. They just did some better."

Army won because it got big games from its top players, including sophomore attackman Garrett Thul, who had five goals, and senior attackman Jeremy Boltus, who added four. The Black Knights had a relentless transition game that Navy couldn't match, and a goalie in Tom Palesky who was nearly unbeatable in the second half, finishing with 11 saves, nine in the final two quarters.

Navy outhustled Army with a 37-22 advantage in groundballs, and outshot the visitors 40-21, but the Middies' defense was slow in sliding, and starting goalie R.J. Wickham was benched after only one save in three quarters.

"We've lost three in a row, and I don't think that has ever happened," said Meade. "It is very difficult and I take responsibility for the entire thing."

Navy senior defenseman Michael Hirsch said there was plenty of blame to go around.

"This is frustrating, but we've got to move on," said Hirsch. "This was the last game for seniors at Navy Marine Stadium, so it's emotional. They kept getting those transition goals off the faceoff over and over again. In the second half, they got four or five goals in transition. If we take them off the table, we've got a closer game."

Navy seemed to take control in the second quarter. With the score tied at 3, the Middies scored four straight goals to take a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. Two of those were scored by senior midfielder Kevin Doyle and another by freshman attackman Tucker Hull. The final goal of the spurt came from junior midfielder Nikk Davis with 2:33 left in the second period.

But Army junior midfielder Devin Lynch broke the Black Knights' scoring slump by diving across the crease and converting on a goal with 11.6 seconds left in the half. That was a sign of things to come.

Lynch opened the third quarter with a runner down the left alley 66 seconds into the period, and midfielder Matt Hurley, off a feed from long pole middie Tim Henderson in transition, scored off the faceoff nine seconds later.

Henderson scored on a 16-yard bomb again off the transition to tie the score at 7 with 11:30 left in the period, and when Thul scored with 9:03 left, Navy lost the lead and the momentum for good.

Army finished the quarter with two goals in the final three minutes for a 10-8 lead after three periods.

"We had some great opportunities, but the ball didn't go in," said Meade. "We either hit him or hit the pipe. They are a very dangerous team in transition, and we knew that coming in. They got some guys that when push comes to shove, they step up. Again, a lot of credit goes to them for turning the table on us."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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