Navy's young defense, led by senior goalie Matt Russell, set the tone early. Then, the older, more proven offense got warmed up, and visiting Ohio State was done.
Five Midshipmen combined to score the game's first six goals, and No. 6 Navy was never threatened last night, as the Midshipmen rolled to a 9-3 victory over the Buckeyes in their home opener before 2,015 at chilly Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Mids (2-0) spread the ball around nicely and shot it proficiently. Junior attackman Ian Dingman, junior midfielder Billy Looney and sophomore attackman Nick Mirabito each scored two goals to lead the offense. Dingman added two assists. Navy, which took a 6-0 lead 24 minutes into the game, needed just 29 shots to take care of its business on offense.
But the defense, which was the top-ranked scoring unit in the nation a year ago before taking some major hits to graduation, looked like a group maturing pretty quickly. It held the Buckeyes to 1-for-7 shooting in extra-man situations. In two games, the unit led by senior Andrew Dow and sophomores Jordan DiNola and Brendan Teague on close defense, has allowed five goals.
"Early on, when we started to practice, they lacked a little confidence," said Russell, the preseason, first-team All-American who made 10 of Navy's 12 saves last night. "They're doing exceptionally well. They're so disciplined. They don't have any bad habits to break."
"We made some good strides tonight. We played with some confidence [on defense]," Navy coach Richie Meade said. "We made mistakes. But, fortunately, like it's been well-advertised, we've got Matt Russell."
Russell, with some help from backup goalie Colin Finnegan, did the most damage to upset-minded Ohio State (0-2) in the opening quarter, when the Buckeyes got some of their best looks at the Navy cage.
Russell made four saves in the first period. Early in the quarter, he drew a slashing penalty and gave way to Finnegan, who in 1:15 of work made two saves, including one outstanding stop. Both keepers energized the home crowd and the offense.
"We played well because the defense played well. Matt commits a foul, Colin makes two huge saves, and that got us going," said Dingman, the 260-pound former star, who rejoined the Mids after leaving the academy for a year to iron out some academic problems.
Dingman was a handful last night. The Buckeyes tried to cover him with a short-stick defender, which didn't work. He worked the ball behind the net, looking for open teammates. He camped out on the wing and used his size to bull his way inside and used his guile to get open. He scored both times from in close.
With junior Navy midfielder William Wallace winning 11 of 15 faceoff attempts, and with the Navy midfield bringing impressive depth to bear, the Buckeyes got outclassed, despite Navy's seven fouls, including four in the second quarter.
Ohio State did make a bit of a contest of it. In the final four minutes of the first half, sophomore Stephen McKinlay and freshman attackman Joel Dalgarno scored to pull the Buckeyes within 6-2 at the half. And 97 seconds into the second half, senior midfielder Andrew Bender beat Russell to cut the Navy lead to 6-3.
But the Mids dug in defensively. And Dingman, with an assist from Billy Looney - who had just been knocked out of the game with a vicious body check that landed Ohio State defenseman Ricky Pages a two-minute penalty - hurt Ohio State. He ended a Navy scoring drought of 16:36 to give Navy a 7-3 lead with 4:28 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State 0 2 1 0 - 3
Navy 3 3 1 2 - 9
Goals: OS-Dalgarno 1, McKinlay 1, Bender 1; N-Dingman 2, Looney 2, Mirabito 2, B. Looney 1, Birsner 1, Shea 1. Assists: OS-Buchanan 1, Lutz 1; N-Dingman 2, Birsner 1, Higgins 1, B. Looney 1, S. Looney 1, Mirabito 1, Wallin 1. Saves: OS-May 6; N-Russell 10, Finnegan 2.