It took Navy a little while to get Colgate under wraps yesterday, but in the end, the Midshipmen easily extended their stranglehold on the Patriot League and paved the way to another NCAA tournament appearance.
Sparked by junior attackman Nick Mirabito's career-high four goals, No. 9 Navy out-classed the Raiders over the final three quarters of the league's tournament title game and rolled to a 15-9 victory before 1,901 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The win gives Navy (11-3) an automatic bid to its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament.
When unranked Massachusetts edged No. 13 Syracuse, 9-7, on Saturday - eliminating the Orange from its first postseason since 1982 - that might have given the Mids room to lose yesterday and still gain an at-large invitation to the NCAAs. But Navy was not in the mood to take any chances.
"It's a tremendous relief to know that we're going to have the opportunity to play in that tournament, and not have to hope that we're going to get in," Navy coach Richie Meade said. "Mentally, it puts you in a situation where you definitely know you're going into a fight instead of hoping it might happen."
Navy, which could host a first-round tournament game and might be back in Annapolis for the quarterfinal round on May 20, found itself in a fight early on with the 16th-ranked Raiders (10-5). But after taking their first lead at 5-4 on a goal by freshman midfielder Basil Daratsos five minutes into the second quarter, the Mids asserted their pedigree.
Between its transition game, defensive tenacity, depth at midfield, unselfishness and superb, 15-for-33 shooting, Navy brought too much to bear upon the Raiders, and increased its overall conference record to 31-2 since joining the Patriot League in 2004.
Mirabito led the charge, adding two assists to finish with a career-high six points. Junior Rob Lenseth, a second-line midfielder who had played in just five games before yesterday, scored three goals. Senior attackman Ian Dingman had two goals and two assists, as did freshman attackman Tim Paul.
Junior midfielder Matt Lalli led Colgate with three goals. But sophomore attackman Brandon Corp, the league's offensive Player of the Year, ran into a stone wall in the form of Navy junior defenseman Jordan DiNola. Corp finished with one assist and whiffed on 11 shots.
Not even a sub-par, 11-for-26 showing in the face-off game could slow Navy.
"The opportunities came to me, and I capitalized. We didn't really expect to score 15 goals," said Mirabito, who was voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player after netting six of Navy's 27 goals in the two-game affair.
Mirabito had a hat trick by halftime. His score with five seconds left in the first quarter - after senior midfielder Tommy Wallin (one goal, two assists) dug the ball out of a scrum and found Mirabito alone with a 15-yard pass across the crease - cut Colgate's lead to 4-3 and changed the momentum.
Navy then took command with a 5-1 run in the second quarter to take an 8-5 lead at halftime. Then, after Lalli scored with one second left in the third quarter to pull Colgate to within 9-8, the Mids finished another half strong.
Dingman, Daratsos and Paul scored to push Navy back to a comfortable lead, 12-8, with 7:50 left in the game. That was the beginning of a game-ending 6-1 run by the Mids.
"The seniors took command, because we know what it's like to go to the dance," said Andrew Dow, part of a senior class that has won 49 games. "That's where we wanted to go again."
Colgate 4 1 3 1 - 9
Navy 3 5 1 6 - 15
Goals: C-Lalli 3, Manastero, Hurley, Murphy, Back, Colleluori, Atamian. N-Mirabito 4, Lenseth 3, Dingman 2, Paul 2, Daratsos 2, Wallin, Higgins. Assists: C-Monastero 2, Corp, Hurley. N-Dingman 2, Mirabito 2, Paul 2, Wallin 2, Barger, Leone. Saves: C-Harrington 7. N-Finnegan 10.