The 21st time was a charm.
Ursinus had never beaten Gettysburg in men’s lacrosse, going 0-for-20 against Hank Janczyk-coached squads prior to Saturday afternoon. The Bears broke the skein at last, riding a hot goalie and a physical style to a 10-8 bludgeoning of the Bullets in the Centennial Conference championship game at Shirk Field. With the win – its first-ever conference crown – Ursinus received an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. Gettysburg (14-4) received an at-large bid.
The Bears’ senior netminder Nick Kirk was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Kirk racked up a championship-game record 22 saves and stymied the Bullets down the stretch. He had 17 saves in his team’s semi-final victory over F & M.
“My heart was racing at the start,” said Kirk. “In the second half I settled down. We knew what we had to do and took care of business.”
Bobby McClure and Ben Minardi had hat tricks for Ursinus (13-3) and Hakan Atillasoy and Tommy Reinhart added two goals apiece.
Jack Fletcher, Brian Kolen and Jack Harvey each had a pair of goals for the Bullets.
“We didn’t play well,” said Janczyk bluntly. “We didn’t clear well – they came up with all the big ground balls. They were tougher and had more presence of mind. They played harder, they played better and they wanted it more.”
Harvey got the home team off to a good start when he shrugged off a big hit from the Bear defense, dashed down Broadway and beat Kirk for the game’s first goal.
Ursinus responded when Sam Isola made a precision pass in traffic to Tommy Reinhart, who got a good look for the finish. Ben Minardi gave the Bears their first lead when he raced to his left and bested Gettysburg goalie Scott MacMillan. Brian Kolen broke a long drought thanks to a feed from Fletcher to make it 2-2.
Ursinus had a quick rejoinder when Reinhart went top shelf just 12 seconds later. With less than a minute in the stanza, Atillasoy dished to Minardi for the goal that made it 4-2 at the end of one period to the delight of the large and vocal band of Bear faithful.
The Bullets climbed back in the contest and re-knotted it at 4 on an unassisted goal by Will DeMartin and another tally by Harvey. Tommy Heller passed to his senior classmate from behind the cage and Harvey could not be denied.
When Kolen unleashed a depth charge that bounced twice and nestled into the net and Heller followed with a wraparound, the hosts led 6-4 with less than five minutes in the half and order seemed to be restored.
As they have all season, the Bears responded to adversity.
“Our defense had an unbelievable game,” said first-year Ursinus head coach Gary Mercadante. “Nick Kirk had 22 saves – they really were our backbone today. This team just never quits. There was never a point when they thought they were out of it. That’s been our M.O. all year. This is the tightest, most together team I’ve ever been around. I believe that is what made us Centennial Conference champions. I couldn’t be prouder of them. They’ve worked hard to create a culture of hard work, commitment and focus on the process.”
Atillasoy started the late surge with an unassisted goal. When Reinhart’s pass in front of the goal mouth was deflected in by Bobby McGee, Ursinus had drawn even at the break, 6-6.
Minardi sprinted left and whipped a seed past MacMillan to put the Bears back on top in the third quarter. The Orange & Blue won the ensuing face-off and turned it into Fletcher’s tough-angle finder to square it at 7-7.
Atillasoy put the guests back in front when he circled from behind and flicked a backhand into the net. Kirk stuffed Fletcher in transition but the Gettysburg junior solved him with another overhand left for the last tie, 8-8, with just 22 seconds in the stanza.
That was more than the Bears needed. The defense forced a turnover and cleared with a field-length pass that McClure turned to gold and gave his club a 9-8 lead heading home. The sequence took 12 seconds.
“That can’t happen,” said Janczyk. “Guys were all over him and he somehow got off a shot. ”
Both defenses tightened in the fourth and McClure was able to convert the only goal of the frame on a speedy transition after the Bullets were called for offsides. Nearly eight minutes remained but Kirk and his teammates met every challenge.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” said Kirk. “We’ve never beaten them. It’s unbelievable.”
With road wins at F&M and Gettysburg, Ursinus seems to be peaking at the right time. Janczyk is not too sure about his Bullets.
“They can’t just walk on the field and think they can win the Centennial Conference based on what they did Wednesday (in the semifinals),” said the veteran mentor. “We just showed up. We gave them the ball over and over. They deserved it. I’ll be honest, if we do get in and we play the way we did today, we’re not going to beat an NCAA team. The guys are really going to have to think it through. I’m very disappointed in my team today and the character we showed.”
Ursinus 4 2 3 1 – 10
Gettysburg 2 4 2 0 – 8
Goals: U-Bobby McClure 3, Ben Minardi 3, Hakan Atillasoy 2, Tommy Reinhart 2; G-Jack Fletcher 2, Brian Kolen 2, Jack Harvey 2, Will DeMartin, Tommy Heller. Assists: U-Atillasoy, Sam Isola, McClure, Reinhart; G-DeMartin, Fletcher, Andrew Garstka, Heller. Shots: U-40; G-47. Ground balls: U-35; G-42. Face-offs: U-10; G-12. Saves: U-22 ; G-11.