Springfield edges Coast Guard 12-10 to win NEWMAC men's lacrosse title

New London — It wasn't the postgame speech Coast Guard Academy men's lacrosse coach Ray LaForte had imagined, with his team on the cusp of going to the program's first NCAA Division III tournament.

The Bears, the top seed, fell to Springfield College 12-10 in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament championship at Cadet Memorial Field, sending the Pride to their 12th straight NCAA tournament and leaving LaForte to console his own players, whose tears mixed with eye black late Saturday afternoon.

"I told them, 'Sports is like love,'" LaForte said from his office. "'If you dare to give it your heart, at some point in time it's going to be broken.' The commitment is massive. It's no one toe out of the water; it's everything you got. And the commitment here is a life commitment."

"It sucks to be so close," Coast Guard senior captain Anthony Wyler said. "What sucks even more is being there with your brothers on the field, all the crap you go through, the coaches, and not being able to talk to them next year. That's what hurts."

Coast Guard finished 14-4 to tie the school record for victories. The Bears lost to Springfield during the regular season, 9-8 on April 17 at Springfield, their only conference loss to earn the league's top seed at 6-1. Springfield (10-9) was 5-2 in the conference with losses to Babson (9-5) and Clark (14-12).

It was a rematch of last year's championship game, won by Springfield 11-7.

Springfield coach Keith Bugbee, in his 36th season, earned his 400th career win, making him just the fifth coach in the history of men's collegiate lacrosse to reach the 400-win plateau and the only coach ever to do it at one institutution.

Springfield senior attack Jack Vail was named Most Outstanding Player with four goals and an assist, as the Pride jumped quickly out to a 3-0 lead and never trailed.

Coast Guard tied the game briefly, 3-3 just 50 seconds into the second quarter on a goal by Benner Geurtsen, but Springfield leapt back in front at 4-3 less than a minute later on a goal by Joe Hawley assisted by Lucas Habich.

Vail then tacked on a pair of sidearm goals for a 6-3 advantage and LaForte called a timeout. Coast Guard got back within 6-5 on a goal by Riley McNulty but gave up a goal just prior to halftime to trail 7-5.

Springfield still led 10-8 after three quarters and the margin teetered between two and three goals the rest of the way.

"It's very hard to do in lacrosse," Bugbee said of the Pride having never trailed. "You get a three-goal lead like that and try not to take your foot off the pedal. Athletes do. But we never did."

McNulty finished with five goals and three assists for Coast Guard, Geurtsen had three goals and Matty Johnson and Norwich Free Academy graduate Logan Morin had one apiece. Faceoff man Colin Cashin was 17-for-26 with 11 ground balls.

McNulty, a junior, is Coast Guard's all-time leader with 140 career goals, 88 assists and 208 points. He set single-season school records this season with 57 goals, 38 assists and 95 points.

Geurtsen, a senior, finished second all-time with 169 points and third with 99 career goals. Wyler graduates second with 107 career goals and third with 153 points, while goalie Trey Johnson leaves as the Bears' all-time leader in wins (43) and saves (496).

Coast Guard's 15 seniors won 48 games in their careers, including back-to-back NEWMAC regular-season titles. It was suggested to LaForte that the seniors raised the program to the next level.

"There was no level," said LaForte, who coached the team from its inception, just completing his fifth season. "There was just gloves and lacrosse sticks. We had to fill it. We built this. We have the audacity to think we're going to win. We have the audacity to go to Wesleyan (ranked ninth in the nation) and think we're going to win."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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