Following a dramatic win to wrap up the regular season, the Stony Brook men’s lacrosse team will compete in its first ever Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) postseason tournament this week.
After securing an 11-10 win over Hofstra on Saturday, the Seawolves (8-6, 5-2 CAA) snagged the third seed in the CAA playoffs in the win-or-go-home matchup. They will face off against the second-seeded Drexel Dragons on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. for the conference semifinals. The tournament will be hosted at Delaware Stadium, the home field of the No. 19 and top-seeded Delaware Blue Hens.
The first matchup between the two teams on April 8 was nothing short of dramatic. Neither team gained anything more than a two-goal lead in the tightly-contested battle. By the end of regulation, the game was tied at 14 goals apiece. A goal just before the two minute mark in overtime by Drexel attackman Max Semple walked the game off, giving the Dragons a vital 15-14 win that wound up earning them the second seed.
Head coach Anthony Gilardi reflected on the first matchup with Drexel and how alike the two teams are.
“We’re very evenly matched teams … we’re about as close as two teams could possibly be,” Gilardi said in an interview with The Statesman. “I thought Drexel did a really good job of taking advantage of some mistakes we made.”
Though Stony Brook has the advantage over Drexel in most offensive statistical categories, many are by a narrow margin. The Seawolves’ 13.29 goals per game ranked second-best in the CAA, but the Dragons were right behind them at 12.54. Stony Brook was also second in points per game with 20.21, narrowly topping Drexel’s 19.38.
The Seawolves will rely on their strong core of scorers to bring them to victory. Attackman Dylan Pallonetti was the top goal-scorer in the CAA, averaging 3.36 goals per game and tallying 47 total. He has scored in every game of his NCAA career, as his streak of 42 consecutive games with a goal leads the nation. He also averaged 1.29 assists per game, which was good for sixth in the conference.
Not surprisingly, Pallonetti earned himself a spot on the 2023 All-CAA First Team. His scoring performance this year has put himself into consideration for an All-American nod. His 47 goals tied him for the fifth-most in the nation, and he averaged the ninth-most goals per game in the NCAA.
Attackman Blake Behlen and Jonathan Huber were both reliable scorers during their first season with Stony Brook. Behlen scored 19 goals and led the team with 19 assists. His 1.36 assists per game puts him at fifth in the CAA. Huber scored 28 goals this year, tying him with midfielder Matt Anderson for the second-most on the team.
Huber and Anderson both averaged two goals per game, tying them for ninth in the CAA.
Midfielder Noah Armitage had a big junior year, scoring 24 goals and dishing out 17 assists. His 1.21 assists per game was good for eighth-best in the CAA. His 41 points gave him an average of 2.93 per game, which was good for 10th-best in the conference.
Anderson also scored 41 points to tie him with Armitage in the conference leaderboard, as he totaled 13 assists this season. As top-10 scorers in the CAA, Armitage and Anderson were each selected to the All-CAA First Team.
Midfielder Will Button rounds out Stony Brook’s elite offensive unit. He was the team’s sixth-leading scorer with 15 goals and eight assists.
Drexel will rely heavily on its two most dangerous offensive weapons: attackman Sean Donnelly and midfielder Jack Mulcahy. Donnelly was fourth in the CAA with 32 goals, averaging 2.46 goals per game. He also dished out 10 assists, giving him a team-leading 42 points. Donnelly was selected to the 2023 All-CAA Second Team for his efforts. Mulcahy was fifth on the team with 18 goals, but he led the team with 17 assists. His 35 points were the second-most on Drexel’s roster, earning him a spot on the 2023 All-CAA First Team.
Gilardi had high praise for the duo, but acknowledged that the Dragons’ offense is much deeper than just their top two guys.
“For them, as much as Donnelly cashed in a bunch, those other guys are really good,” Gilardi said. “Mulcahy is one of the best [midfielders] in the league by far … For us, we have to make sure we’re playing team defense. That’s what we do. If we can play team defense, we’re in a good spot.”
To Gilardi’s point, the Dragons have some other productive players. Semple scored 23 goals, which was good for the second-most on the team. Drexel midfielder Luke Tomak scored 22 goals and added 10 assists, earning himself a selection to the All-CAA Second Team.
Drexel attackman Conor Hooley rounds out an explosive core of Dragon scorers, as he finished the regular season with 19 goals. Hooley was named to the 2023 CAA All-Rookie Team.
Drexel’s dangerous offense will look to exploit Stony Brook’s average defense. The Seawolves ranked fourth in scoring defense, allowing 11.45 goals per game. They also caused only 6.57 turnovers per game, which was the lowest mark in the CAA.
Long stick midfielder Christian Lowd and defender Mikey Sabella will look to hold it down for Stony Brook on the defensive end. Lowd finished the regular season third in the conference in caused turnovers (28) and caused turnovers per game (2.0). Sabella was tied for seventh in both of those categories (17, 1.21).
Lowd picked up the eighth-most ground balls in the CAA and averaged 4.14 per game, which was good for ninth. The impact he made this year earned him a spot on the All-CAA First Team.
Defender Michael DeSano had an impressive freshman season, picking up 17 ground balls in 12 games played. He was given a spot on the 2023 CAA All-Rookie team for his performance.
Gilardi put emphasis on the importance of defender Dan Newton and defensive midfielder Ben Morschauser stepping up on Thursday. With the defense being a weakness for Stony Brook, production from the two upperclassmen could be a difference maker.
Drexel will rely on defender Pat Udovich to try and slow down Stony Brook’s offense. Despite missing four games, Udovich was selected to the All-CAA Second Team. He picked up 16 ground balls and caused eight turnovers in only nine games played.
The battle between the two goalies should be one to look out for. Goalkeeper Jamison MacLachlan has been integral for the Seawolves, as his 166 saves and 11.86 saves per game both led the CAA. His 51.4% save percentage places him at third in the conference, barely edging out Drexel goalkeeper Ross Blumenthal’s 51.1%. MacLachlan also sits at fourth in the CAA in goals against average (11.45), but Blumenthal is right behind him at fifth (11.68).
Gilardi said that MacLachlan will be key in giving Stony Brook a chance to advance to the championship.
“He lives for the big moments, there’s no doubt about that,” Gilardi said. “He’s an energetic guy. Our guys feed off his juice in the cage … we’re looking for him to keep doing what he’s capable of doing.”
An area that Stony Brook has the clear advantage in is ball security. Its 14.79 turnovers per game is the second-lowest figure in the CAA. Drexel has committed the second-most turnovers in the conference this year, averaging 18.31 per game. Stony Brook has also picked up more ground balls per game (32.79) than Drexel (31.62) this year, with the two teams ranking third and fourth in the CAA, respectively.
Drexel did a good job controlling the X this year, winning 54.8% of its faceoff opportunities. Stony Brook is just sixth in the CAA in faceoff win percentage at 46.5%. With the absence of faceoff specialist Renz Conlon, Stony Brook has relied on backups Robbie Smith and Declan Mitchell to secure possessions. After Conlon’s injury, Stony Brook won only 42.4% of faceoff opportunities in the final three games of the regular season.
A good performance from Smith and Mitchell in the faceoff circle would be a huge boost for the Seawolves in their first-round matchup.
“I think Robbie and Declan are the keys for us,” Gilardi said. “If those guys step up and mix it up in the faceoff X, I think that’s a huge piece of it.”
Drexel faceoff specialist Justin Joseph will be a lot for Smith and Mitchell to handle. Joseph ranked fifth in the CAA in faceoff percentage, winning 56.2% of opportunities.
Gilardi said that the faceoff struggles do raise concerns, but executing in other areas should be enough to overcome that weakness.
“That’s something that we’re highly concerned of and highly aware of,” Gilardi said. “It’s really about being efficient offensively when we have the ball. And defensively, getting stops and making saves and clearing it. If we can make saves and clear it, the faceoffs will wash out a little bit.”
The winner of this semifinals matchup will go on to play either Delaware or the Towson Tigers on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Blue Hens were 10-4 on the season and 6-1 in conference play. The Tigers were 6-8 on the season and 5-2 in conference play, finishing as the fourth seed after losing the tiebreaker to Stony Brook.