The buzz surrounding reigning national champion Stevenson’s 15-14 overtime loss to the Rochester Institute of Technology on Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., was that the ending was steeped in controversy. But that's not how Mustangs coach Paul Cantabene saw it.
Stevenson won the faceoff to begin the extra session, but Tigers coach Jake Coon asked for a check on sophomore faceoff specialist Justin Buonomo's stick. Officials ruled that the stick was illegal, giving RIT a three-minute extra-man opportunity.
The Tigers – who lost to the Mustangs in last year’s NCAA tournament final – took advantage when senior midfielder Taylor Wisman converted a pass from senior attackman Jack Krzyston with 1:43 left in overtime. Before the game-winning goal, there was some dispute over whether Stevenson sophomore goalkeeper Dimitri Pecunes was pushed in the back.
Cantabene said he had no problem with the stick check on Buonomo.
“It’s got to be a legal stick,” he said Monday morning. “We shouldn’t have an issue with it, and it wasn’t [legal]. That’s a mistake on us and the player. We just can’t have it. That can’t be a part of the game there and we’ve got to be better than that. Our player’s got to know that. We talk about having legal sticks all the time, and that’s one of the silliest things we can do. But we’ll learn from it, and we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again, that’s for sure.”
Cantabene said Pecunes was shoved, but he also maintained that the team can’t always rely on officials.
“There’s a lot of things that didn’t get called, and you’ve got to play through it and you can’t worry about what officials are calling,” he said. “You’ve got to play the game and be tougher than that. We should never have gotten to that point. There were plays that we needed to make beforehand and we just needed to make one of those plays in order to win the game and we didn’t make any of them.”
Cantabene was referring to the final two minutes of regulation when the Mustangs had a 14-10 advantage, but squandered that lead. It was an unusual display for Stevenson, who demonstrated a knack for finishing off opponents en route to the last year’s NCAA title.
“They got some momentum, and we just didn’t do a good job,” he said. “I thought our guys didn’t handle that well. I thought we had some plays, but we made some poor passes to get out. If we make some of those, we would have won the game. The guys just didn’t make the right choices. We go over those things all the time in practice. We’re up two with two minutes or up one with one minute, we go through all of those situations, and I didn’t think we handled them extremely well. I thought we played a great game for 58 minutes. We executed everything. But we kind of collapsed in the last two minutes. We’ll learn from it and we’ll get back, and I think our guys understand what happened.”
The loss means that the Mustangs (1-1) will likely slip from their No. 1 ranking in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association preseason poll, and RIT (1-0) will move from No. 2 to No. 1. But Cantabene said he is not worried about the setback infecting the team.
“I think it’s going to impact us for the positive,” he said. “They understand what’s going on, and they’re pretty upset about it. In those situations, there’s got to be some accountability, and I think it’s going to happen. I don’t think it’s going to be a negative for us by any means. Again, this wasn’t a statement game or anything. This was their first game and our second game, and we’ve got to play the No.  team in the country [Western New England] this week. So we’ve got a lot of tough games ahead of us. We’re going to learn from this just like we learned from our first game. I thought we played a lot better from our first game to this game. We did a lot better, and our defense played a lot better at times even though we gave up 15 goals. Normally you wouldn’t say that, but that’s one of the best offensive teams we’re going to see, and we really did a great job for three-and-a-half quarters of guarding them.”