LEXINGTON, Va. – After 10 days off, the VMI lacrosse team made some key adjustments, which helped the Keydets hang tough with No. 16 Lehigh University on Tuesday afternoon. The Keydets fell 6-2 to the newly-ranked Mountain Hawks, backed by a 13 save effort from VMI’s netminder, J Rice.
“What a difference 10 days makes,” said VMI head man Brian Anken, whose team suffered a difficult 12-4 loss on Feb. 25 to Saint Joseph’s. “Just getting some time to really take a step back, reanalyze some systematic things … some personnel adjustments. Statement on the game as a whole, I thought it was a battle.”
The Mountain Hawks, fresh off of a 9-8 win over then fourth-ranked North Carolina, were stymied by the defense, which forced 13 turnovers. The six points allowed by VMI are the fewest by a Keydet squad since a 14-7 win over Presbyterian in 2010.
VMI’s offense was led by two different goal scorers, Draius Mills and Drew Leonard, while Andrew Nieminski kicked in an assist. Mills and Nieminski each posted their first points of the 2012 season.
In net for the Keydets, Rice made 13 stops in his first-ever start, including four in the second quarter, blanking the Mountain Hawks (5-1) during that period.
“I thought J absolutely earned that opportunity to come in and step into that starting roll,” said Anken of his junior netminder. “He’s worked hard over the last couple of weeks … but he was given a great opportunity today and he took full advantage of it."
Lehigh was led by Roman Lao-Gosney, who had two goals while his brother, Cameron, chipped in a helper to Roman. Dante Fantoni, Dan Taylor, Kyle Stiefel and Kurtis Kaunas each found the goal once. Matthew Poillon made 10 saves in his fifth victory of the season.
For a second straight game, the Keydets (0-5) held control of the groundball battle, grabbing 24 to Lehigh’s 20. VMI gather 11 in the third quarter.
Behind senior specialist Stephen Robarge, VMI went 7-12 at the face-off X. Draws were a big part of the game, as it pitted Robarge, ranked No. 12 in the NCAA in winning percentage, against the country’s No. 11 ranked specialist Ryan Snyder.
Playing at the Institute’s SprinTurf Field, located behind Foster Stadium, the Keydets had one of their best days in the clearing game, gaining the zone on 15 of their 16 attempts. Lehigh went 15-for-15.
Lehigh jumped out to an early 2-0 lead midway through the first quarter on goals from Taylor and Stiefel, whose marker came on the extra man, one of two Mountain Hawk extra-man chances.
But VMI cut the lead in half as Mills came charging down the right side of the box and finishing his shot for his first career goal for VMI.
The Mountain Hawks finished the first quarter with the contest’s final extra man goal as Kaunas sniped a pass from DiMaria.
The second quarter was a defensive stalemate, as neither team managed to find the goal, despite a game-high 13 during the stanza from Lehigh. The Keydets took three tries during the second quarter, failing to put a shot on goal.
The Mountain Hawks put away the games next three goals during the third, when they posted two, and their final tally of the day in the fourth quarter. The Keydets had the final marker of the day as Leonard snapped home his shot with 5:20 to play, converting Nieminski’s assist, extended VMI’s assist streak to 58 straight games at home with an assist.
Chris Kitchen took six of VMI’s 26 shots, while Leonard and Russell East took five and four, respectively. Robarge grabbed a game-best six groundballs, while opposite him, Snyder corralled a team-high tying three.
In the Keydet defensive third, Rory Dillon and Kyle Hoffstetter each caused three turnovers, helping VMI’s total of 10, the squad’s highest of the year.
VMI concluded a two game home stand with Lehigh and will take the show on the road this Saturday as the Keydets take on Mount St. Mary’s. VMI and the Mountaineers will square off at 1 p.m. Waldron Family Stadium in Emmitsburg, Md.