Midfielder Mike McCannell in the game against Fairfield on Feb. 12. McCannell made the victory shot with 25.5 seconds left in the game. KAT PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

Head coach Anthony Gilardi admitted that the Stony Brook men’s lacrosse team was not playing at its best in the team’s season opener at home against the Fairfield Stags.

Regardless, midfielder Mike McCannell made sure that it didn’t matter when he caught a pass from attackman Dylan Pallonetti and rifled a shot into the back of the net with 25.5 seconds left.

The Seawolves won the following face-off and survived a brief period of chaos to hang on for the 13-12 victory on Saturday, Feb. 12.

“We were trying to push the pace against their defense, keep the ball moving quick,” McCannell said about his game-winning goal in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “We saw a similar look earlier in the game where they slide to the double on Pallonetti, and it just happened that on that pick, they both went to him and he was able to see me open on the wing there for a step down.”

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With the path to the NCAA Tournament via the America East auto-bid blocked off, the Seawolves needed a convincing performance on Saturday to set up its resumé for an at-large bid. They got a sneak preview against one of their future conference opponents, with Fairfield being an associate member of the Colonial Athletic Association in men’s lacrosse.

It was difficult early, as Stony Brook had no answer for Stags midfielder Bryce Ford. The junior scored six of Fairfield’s first eight goals and assisted on two more. Ford worked efficiently, taking only 10 shots, nine of which were on goal. His performance was even more impressive given that he missed the entire 2021 season, having not found the field in nearly two years.

“He made some nice plays, but a lot of them were team goals,” Gilardi said about Ford. “There weren’t a lot of one-on-one matchups, but he just drifted, he found space and made some nice plays. He’s a talented player.”

Stony Brook’s graduate transfers paid dividends as they attempted to close the 6-3 second-quarter gap. Chris Merle, a former Virginia Cavaliers midfielder, and Kevin Mack, who played four seasons as an attackman for the Michigan Wolverines, both scored their first goal in a Seawolves uniform to help make it a 7-6 game at halftime.

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Stony Brook committed 12 first-half turnovers, several of them in the box. The Seawolves cleaned it up a bit after the break and forced four Fairfield turnovers in the final eight minutes, which played a notable role in the comeback win.

“A lot of the mistakes were guys trying to be Superman,” Gilardi said. “We’re a team, not individual guys, so that’s what we’re going to hit on. Monday’s film session should be fun.”

Ford began the second half right where he left off with a leaping mid-air goal as the shot clock expired, but Mack assisted Pallonetti and attackman Noah Armitage on back-to-back scores to tie the game. A Long Island native from Manhasset, Mack tied for the team lead with four points on a goal and three assists.

“I’m definitely going to play better. I had three turnovers, and that’s not good,” Mack said. “But it was great. My family was here and some of my friends were here. I just had a great time playing with these guys. It’s a great group to play with.”

The Stags added on two more before the end of the third quarter, but Stony Brook midfielder Matt Anderson scored or assisted on the next three goals as the Seawolves rallied in the fourth quarter to take an 11-10 lead, their first of the game. Both Anderson and McCannell led Stony Brook with three goals each, with Pallonetti and Anderson joining Mack with four points.

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“Kevin’s done a good job being the quarterback,” Gilardi said. “He’s a feeder back there. He does a good job controlling it from behind the cage, which allows Dylan to play above the cage … The feedings really helped. We’ve been the best cutting and working off ball probably better than we have.”

Stony Brook’s head coach was happy to get the first game of the season out of the way with Robert Morris on the schedule next.

“Some of the mistakes that we made, guys kind of went off script a little bit,” he said. “There’s a very big difference between playing a game and playing in scrimmages and practice. The guys were over-excited to try and make plays, and we had a lot of new guys out there.”

Following a dramatic start, Stony Brook will face Robert Morris on Saturday, Feb. 19, at noon at LaValle Stadium.

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