Essex captures NJCAA championship with 20-19 overtime victory Knights become first Md. team to win title


Andy Martin has the hardest shot on the Essex Community College lacrosse team, something with which Adam Baker would concur after Martin whistled a 20-yard line drive past the Herkimer County (N.Y.) CC goalie 46 seconds into the first sudden-death overtime period, giving Essex a national championship and setting off a wild celebration.

The 20-19 victory was achieved before a crowd of some 1,800 at Catonsville CC, the host school.

The triumph capped a comeback that seemed unlikely at times, completed a 16-0 season and gave the Knights the first National Junior College Athletic Association lacrosse title won by a Maryland school in the 22-year history of the tournament.

On the winning situation, Essex attackman Sean Heffernan said he was to drive to the goal, and if the shot wasn't there, to dump it off, "and Andy was wide-open."

To which Martin added: "I was going to wait and not take the shot so quickly, but it was there. The keeper left me about a foot in the upper left corner. Yesterday [Friday], I started out trying to bounce the ball in, but went back to firing it high, the way I'm most comfortable."

The winning goal was the second of two important offensive thrusts for the Knights. Joe DiNenna had converted a feed from Brian Kelly into an extra-man goal that tied the score, 19-19, with 28 seconds left in regulation.

DiNenna wound up with four goals, while Derrick Allender, chosen his team's player of the year earlier in the week, complemented Martin in the midfield with a goal and four assists.

Essex also made two important defensive changes.

First, assistant coach Dominic Mezzanotte, who works with the goalkeepers, called for a change in keepers midway through the second period, and then assistant Dave Wrzesinski made an adjustment that helped slow down the Herkimer transition game.

Steve Carcaterra and Mike Tesoriero had combined for nine first-half goals, as Herkimer (15-5) used a five-goal barrage in less than seven minutes to open a 12-7 lead with 8 minutes, 48 seconds left in the second quarter.

Sophomore Erik Miller replaced starter Jim Cabrey in the Essex goal and held the visitors scoreless the rest of the half, while his offense-minded teammates battled back to make the score 12-11 at the break. Miller also restricted Herkimer to one goal in the last 13 minutes.

Herkimer opened three-goal margins three times in the second half, the last at 18-15 two minutes into the fourth quarter.

Jamie Carver got one back and Martin connected on two of his shots, getting the tying one with 4:30 to go in regulation. Jeremy Murphy untied it for Herkimer at 2:26.

Sean Chenworth -- "probably my best player," said Essex coach Tim Puls -- was outstanding on defense, and it was two checks by him that forced turnovers and gave Essex its tying shot at the end of regulation and its winning shot. He was quick to credit fellow defender Rob Troy with shutting down Tesoriero, as the four-goal scorer was shut out the last 38 minutes.

Both said they changed their defense in the second half, providing pressure on the wings, and it worked much better.

"The key thing was we kept our composure," Chenworth said. "The defense settled down and we had faith in the offense."

Puls also had faith in his offense, because he told his players to keep shooting. "We thought they might have some defensive problems and felt if we got the shots, we could score."

The Essex coach was particularly pleased because his young team -- six freshman starters -- had to overcome the season-long pressure of "everybody thinking we'd win." Essex lost to Nassau in last year's championship game, 16-9.

Herkimer coach Paul Wehrum said he thought his team "had more legs than they did, but their first midfield [Martin, Kelly and Allender] was tops. We were prepared for their zone defense and that's why we got 19 goals."

Nassau won the third-place game, beating SUNY-Farmingdale, 10-8. Colin McDermott and James Byrns led Nassau, a 15-time winner.


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