Dimitri Pecunes went from being a question mark to providing the exclamation point on No. 4 Stevenson’s magical run.
Just three games removed from being pulled at the start of the second quarter of a NCAA tournament second-round contest against Washington College, the freshman goalkeeper was a significant factor in the Mustangs’ 16-14 victory over No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology in Sunday’s championship final at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Baltimore native and Calvert Hall graduate made a game-best 15 saves, and many of them were of the point-blank variety. After the game, Pecunes claimed he had no idea he had finished with that many stops.
“I knew I had to stay focused,” he said. “I felt great coming in. I just knew I had to make the right saves. We practiced a lot about where they were going to shoot from, and we knew we had to keep the rebounds to a minimum.”
Senior attackman Tyler Reid, who recorded one goal and two assists against the Tigers, credited Pecunes with anchoring the team’s defense.
“Dimitri Pecunes, he came up with three saves within about 15 seconds, and he stole the show with about a minute and 30 [seconds] left,” Reid said. “In any sport, when you’ve got a player that gets hot, it’s hard to get something past that player. Dimitri got hot in these playoffs and we counted on him. When we needed him to make some plays, the kid made some plays.”
Pecunes’ performance is remarkable considering how he was benched after surrendering five goals in the first quarter of that contest against the Shoremen. But he returned after spending the first 5 minutes, 17 seconds of the second period on the sideline and earned victories over No. 11 Washington, No. 13 Lynchburg in the quarterfinals, No. 12 Salisbury in the semifinals and now RIT.
“It happens to every goalie here and there,” Pecunes said of the brief demotion. “They have their games, and you have to stay focused mentally and calm. You know that you have the confidence to just do your thing.”
Coach Paul Cantabene pointed out that Pecunes outdueled Tigers sophomore Pat Johnston, who was named second-team All-American last Tuesday.
“He learned a lot from that Washington College game, how to handle big games and situations, and he’s been great ever since,” Cantabene said. “He’s really played well. So we’re proud of him, especially with a freshman in that situation going against another kid who’s already been in those situations a little bit. He handled it extremely well, and he’s been great. His demeanor has been unbelievable. He doesn’t get too high and he doesn’t get too low. So he really was excellent today, especially in the end when I kind of put us in a little bit of a situation. He really made some excellent saves.”
* Had the Mustangs been able to rally back in the fourth quarter, they would not have had to look far for a scapegoat. The team was flagged 11 times for 8:30 worth of penalty time, and RIT took advantage by scoring four goals on 10 extra-man chances. Cantabene was docked twice for two unsportsmanlike conduct, and he accepted responsibility for his behavior. “They dinged me,” he began. “They didn’t like what I had to say. I didn’t think I said anything out of the ordinary, and that’s just the way it is. They called me on it and I went in that huddle and basically said, ‘Hey, fellas, that one’s on me. You guys [have] got to bail me out on this one. I screwed up and I shouldn’t have said anything, I should have just went with the call.’ I thought [sophomore attackman] Mark [Pannenton] got drilled from behind. That’s why he went offsides and they didn’t call it, but I got called for it. I go, ‘Hey, you’ve got to bail me out.’ The first thing [junior defenseman] Kyle Holechek said, [he] looked at me and said, ‘Coach, you’ve had my back my whole time here, we’ve got your back on this one.’ Dimitri looked me in the face and said, ‘I’m going to make that save, Coach. Don’t worry about it,’ and he did, and they bailed me out. I told them, ‘Hey, fellas, that’s what it’s about.’ Sometimes your players [have] got to bail you out of situations as a coach that you get yourself into. So it was a little crazy at the end, especially because they’re so great at the man up. I really give them a lot of credit how great they are man up. They’re unbelievable. So it was a little crazy, I felt a little bad there for a moment – actually felt great shame – but they bailed me out.”
* The Tigers had a golden opportunity to narrow the gap to one when Pannenton was called for offsides and Cantabene earned his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 1:14 left in regulation. But on the ensuing 6-on-4, sophomore midfielder Kyle Aquin took a shot that went wide of the cage and sophomore attackman Eddie Kiesa’s long-range offering was snatched by Pecunes. RIT coach Jake Coon said he had no regrets about how that series of plays unfolded. “Kyle had seven goals today. If there’s anyone we want shooting the ball, I think it’s him,” Coon said. “And then I think there was a scrum and we came up with the ball. I know Eddie took one shot. He went high with it, and their goalie made the save. That’s one of those things that you can preach all day long, just shoot low and shoot here, shoot there, but when he gets the ball in his stick, he’s got to make the choice, and he shot it high, and it is what it is. The goalie made a good save and that was that. I think the play that we ran, it worked out OK. We just didn’t put it in the net that time. Kyle had stuffed in seven all day, so let’s give him the ball.”
* Tigers sophomore midfielder Kyle Aquin tied a tournament final record with seven goals on 12 shots, but all seven tallies occurred in the second and third quarters. He was unable to find the net in the final period, but Cantabene said Aquin was a tough player to contain. “He’s just a tough guy,” Cantabene said. “You have to slide to those guys sometimes, and he just makes plays. He knows how to shoot the ball so well. He puts it in so many places, he hides his stick extremely well. He’s had a heck of a year, and he’s tough to guard, especially when you have to slide to the other guys and he’s on the end shooting it. And he shoots it so well when he gets his hands free. We wanted to make sure that we got [sophomore defenseman] Cal Robinson on him the most we can. And then we switched [junior defenseman] Kyle Holechek to him a little bit, and I thought in the fourth quarter, we were able to know what he was doing.”
* Sunday’s game was just the third meeting between the two programs, but it will not be the last. The teams are scheduled to open the 2014 campaign against each other. “It’s not going to take us long to see them again because we open the season with them next year,” Cantabene said. “So that should be pretty interesting.” Added Coon: “Yeah, we’re planning on playing early in the season next year again and kind of making that a yearly thing. It’ll be a rematch early on next year. I think it’ll be another exciting, thrilling game. Hopefully, we come out on the other end of it.”