The unseasonably cool breezes that swept through central Virginia on Saturday night were not derecho, nor El Niño, nor some low-lying jet stream phenomenon. They were instead the simultaneous exhale of relief from Virginia lacrosse fans, who had seen their Cavaliers stave off elimination from postseason play with a 12-7 win over Bellarmine.
On senior day at Klockner, three juniors led the way for the Hoos. Mark Cockerton, Rob Emery and Nick O'Reilly combined for 12 points on the day; at least one of the three had a hand in all but one of the Cavalier goals. Sophomore Owen Van Arsdale played well off the bench, notching two second-half goals that helped Virginia seize control and put the game away.
The score remained close throughout the first thirty minutes of play. Virginia opened the scoring with a Mark Cockerton goal in the first quarter, and took a one-goal lead into the half thanks to a Rob Emery tally with 35 seconds left in the second. The first half was very much played at Bellarmine's grind-it-out pace: the teams combined for only seven goals in the first half, a total that Virginia and Duke had matched by the middle of the first quarter last week.
But Virginia began to pour it on in the second half, showing flashes of offense that had been sorely missed for most of the season. After Michael Ward tied the game for Bellarmine at 6:37 in the third, the Hoos went on an 8-3 run to end the game. Ward and Cameron Gardner were each able to break up two-goal U.Va. mini-runs, but Virginia turned to depth and balance to blow the game wide-open with a four-goal run in the fourth quarter. Cockerton scored to get things started, followed by Van Arsdale's second goal; freshman James Pannell and senior Charlie Streep supplied the other two goals.
Much of the credit for the second-half runs was due to Virginia's various specialists. Tyler German won all six of the face-offs in the third quarter, part of his 67% win rate for the day. And Rhody Heller made 6 of his 10 saves in the second half while allowing only three goals.
The performance showed what Virginia is capable of when all the pieces come together. Success at the face-off circle; reliable goalkeeping; a shot percentage closer to 30 than 20--mix the ingredients right and you get 12 goals against one of the nation's top goalies and best scoring defenses. Most importantly, you get a win when you can't afford a loss.
Coach Starsia talked about the win giving the team a little more energy going into preparations for this weekend's ACC Tournament. That extra energy will be necessary, as the Hoos have put themselves in the unenviable position of needing to win the conference tournament to become eligible for the NCAA Tournament. The quest for May Madness begins Friday night in Chapel Hill when fourth-seeded Virginia takes on top seed Maryland. Face-off is slated for 5 PM.
Full stats from the game available here.