The ninth-ranked Virginia men’s lacrosse team posted a dominating second-half performance against Bellarmine to earn a 12-8 victory Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Cavaliers halted a three-game losing streak and finished the regular season at 9-5.
Prior to the game, 13 Virginia seniors were honored in a ceremony commemorating their time with the program.
“It was cool to help the seniors on maybe their last game at Klöckner,” freshman goalkeeper Matt Barrett said. “We played for them to make sure they got out of here with a W.”
The Cavaliers’ (9-5, 1-4 ACC) emotions from the Senior Day ceremonies may have carried over into the early portions of the game, as the Knights (6-5, 0-4 ECAC) jumped out to a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the first quarter. The Cavaliers were quickly able to right the ship, however, and senior midfielder Rob Emery put away his 13th of the year to tie the score at 1-1.
The Emery goal spurred a short Virginia run to take the lead, with junior midfielder Ryan Tucker making the score 2-1 with just more than six minutes remaining in the quarter. Leading scorer and senior attackman Mark Cockerton then put away his first of the game with a wicked bounce shot to stretch the Virginia lead to two.
Though it seemed as though Virginia held all of the momentum, Bellarmine was able to draw within one when senior midfielder Cameron Gardner’s shot found the back of the net with 10 seconds to play in the frame.
The two squads traded blows for the majority of the second quarter. The Knights were able to pull even early in the quarter, but an incredible underhanded finish from sophomore attackman James Pannell — who was facing away from the goal — re-established a one-goal Cavalier lead. Cockerton put home his second of the afternoon 15 seconds later, giving Virginia an apparent stranglehold on the game.
The Knights, however, would not quit. They responded to this two-goal spurt with a three-goal run of their own to take a 6-5 lead with just less than six minutes to play in the half.
“I was disappointed with how we played in the first half,” coach Dom Starsia said. “I didn’t think we started off the game very sharp.”
Virginia’s sloppy passing in the restraining box hindered its scoring chances for several minutes, but Barrett stood tall in the crease and prevented the Bellarmine lead from growing to more than one.
Eventually, after more than six scoreless minutes, sophomore midfielder Greg Coholan found the back of the net and Virginia drew even. On the ensuing Cavalier possession, Starsia called a timeout to settle his team and draw up a play — a strategy which immediately paid off.
Tucker took the ball himself from behind the net and perfectly executed a swim-dodge to get past a Bellarmine defender, firing a hard shot past senior goalkeeper Will Haas to give Virginia the lead going into the half.
The second half seemed to pose an entirely different game. Virginia came out of the intermission on fire, as Cockerton completed his hat trick just 24 seconds into the period to make the score 8-6.
“I tend not to be a blackboard beater, I tend to trust the kids,” Starsia said. “All we kept talking about was playing a complete game. I said, ‘Let’s get to it and let’s do the things we talk about doing every single day.’”
Virginia would score twice more in the third period, but the defense stole the show. The Cavalier midfielders and defenders swarmed the ball, suffocating the Knights’ attack. With expertly executed slides and well-timed checks, the Cavaliers allowed just two shots on goal in the quarter — both of which were swallowed up by Barrett.
“The defense played really well, especially in the second half,” Barrett said. “I owe a lot of saves to them keeping the ball out and letting me see from far away.”
Cavalier junior midfielder Tyler German’s tally at the start of the fourth capped a six-goal Virginia run that gave the team a comfortable five-goal advantage in the final frame. Bellarmine attempted to muster a comeback by scoring two of its own the final 10 minutes, but Virginia’s stifling defense proved to be too much to overcome.
Freshman attackman Ryan Lukacovic drove the final nail in the Knights’ coffin with his 10th of the season at the 3:48 mark, making the final score 12-8.
“We were better in the second half overall and it was enough to get the W today,” Starsia said. “We’re going to have to do better than this if we want to continue to play in the month of May.”
Virginia will be back in action Saturday, April 26, when the team travels to Philadelphia, Pa. to play in the ACC Championship Showcase Game against North Carolina. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m.