First Place Up for Grabs Between Mercy, C.W. Post

Two East Coast Conference men's lacrosse contenders are set to square off Saturday in a highly anticipated bout that has the potential to be a classic.

In one corner stands C.W. Post, a polished, veteran lacrosse squad with tremendous depth and currently riding the coattails of back-to-back Division II national titles. Meanwhile, in the other corner stands Mercy College, an upstart lacrosse program in just its second year that has defied the odds to storm out to a 10-1 record and No. 7 national ranking.

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season and both teams at 6-1 overall in ECC play, the stakes are clearly defined. While Saturday's winner will take sole possession of first place and get a leg up on clinching a playoff spot, the loser will fall back into a potential second place tie with NYIT, Dowling or Mercyhurst, three teams currently with two league losses.

"We have one heck of a match-up ahead of us," said Mercy head coach Steve Manitta, whose team is currently riding a five-game winning streak. "We have a whole week to prepare for this one, so we've been doing a lot of homework. A game like this deserves a week of preparation."

Mercy will likely be cramming all week in anticipation of a talented C.W. Post team. The Pioneers enter Saturday's game at 13-1 overall, posting impressive victories over the likes of Seton Hill, Bentley, NYIT and Mercyhurst. The team's only defeat this season came at the hands of ECC rival Dowling, 8-7 in overtime, back on March 26.

Behind a high-powered offense and stifling defense, the Pioneers currently No. 3 in the latest USILA Coaches Poll have that familiar look of a national title contender in 2011.

"I think we're playing pretty well right now," said C.W. Post head coach John Jez, now in his fifth year as head coach of the Pioneers. "We have great group of senior leaders and they step up when called upon. We're going to need them to especially step up down the stretch here with everything on the line."

Two of those senior standouts make up part of a dynamic offensive unit. Along with junior Eddie Plompen, upperclassmen Mike Messina and Nick Coric headline a squad averaging 12 goals per game. Plompen has posted 42 goals and 14 assists through 14 games and was named the ECC Player of the Week on Monday. Coric and Messina, meanwhile, have combined to net 50 goals.

But the story so far for the Pioneers has arguably been about the play of their defense. Led by senior defenders Dan DaCosta, Erik Boyd and goalie Mike Giordano, the unit has stymied opposition to just four goals per game. The team's late game defense has been so effective this season that only 25 second-half goals have been allowed, good for less than two scores per game.

"They will come and pressure you and really do a good job of it," Manitta said. "They are strong defensively and very athletic. They show a lot of pressure, whether it's rides or even on their man-down unit. Once they do that, they want you to panic a little bit. The key is that we can't panic and just throw it away."

As for Mercy, the squad's offensive unit has been a constant source of production this season and should give C.W. Post a tremendous test. Averaging just south of 12 goals per game, the Mavericks are spearheaded by junior attackman Sal Spinelli and his team-high 23 goals. All the while, freshman Jesse Wood has been a major catalyst through his elite playmaking abilities to the tune of 21 goals and 23 assists.

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