Bulldogs Advance to NEC Title Game with Win vs. Sacred Heart

SMITHFIELD, R.I. Behind six points from senior captain Peter McMahon (Wilton, Conn.) and 13 saves from redshirt-freshman Gunnar Waldt (Freeland, Md.), top-seeded Bryant advanced to Saturday's Northeast Conference championship game with an 11-9 victory over four-seed Sacred Heart Thursday afternoon at Bulldog Stadium.

The Bulldogs (7-10) never trailed after equalizing a game-opening goal by the Pioneers (3-11) with 4:48 left in the first frame, the first of three-straight tallies scored in just a 23-second span to jumpstart postseason play for the defending tournament and 2013 regular-season champs.

The game saw newly crowned NEC Player of the Year Kevin Massa (Huntington, N.Y.) go 15 for 23 from the faceoff X and also saw the sophomore phenom break the NCAA Division I record for ground balls in a season. His game-high nine Thursday afternoon gives him 203 on the season, marking the first time a player has topped the 200-ground ball mark in a single campaign in NCAA Division I history. Massa now has 340 ground balls in just two years at the collegiate level.

"It's just a remarkable feat," said head coach Mike Pressler. "That record has lasted since 2006, and we are so proud of and so happy for Kevin. No one is more deserving, and I feel the same way about his position coach, Casey Brodersen, as well."

The Bulldogs jumped out in front with a bang in the opening quarter of the first NEC Semifinal, scoring four times in the final five minutes for the 4-1 advantage. The three-goal, 23-second streak saw markers from junior attack Dan Sipperly (Greenwich, N.Y.), assisted by NEC Rookie of the Year Shane Morrell (Glen Mills, Pa.), followed by consecutive scores from all-conference first teamer Alex Zomerfeld (Port Jefferson, N.Y.), the first assisted by fellow first team pick and the nation's top longpole scorer in senior Tewaaraton Trophy semifinalist Mason Poli (Downingtown, Pa.).

Junior Bo Redpath (Norwich, Vt.) gave the hosts a three-goal lead just as the first-period clock expired off the first assist of the day from McMahon.

"That was a first," said Pressler. "I can't remember doing that before. We score in bunches because of the faceoff that is a big part of what we do."

Sacred Heart cut the home team's edge to two 57 seconds into the second stanza off an unassisted Matt King score, but McMahon would find real estate behind goalie Jon Flood twice more before Alex Miller and Tim Canton scored 16 seconds apart to renew the two-goal margin with just over three to play before the break.

But as the clock ticked under the two-minute mark, Poli took a pass from Zomerfeld and wound up, firing a bullet into the Sacred Heart net for the 7-4 halftime margin.

In the third, the Pioneers cut their deficit to two once again with 11:41 on the clock, but McMahon's response came less than a minute later as the senior all-league second teamer completed his second-consecutive hat trick for an 8-5 Bryant advantage.

"Peter is playing the best lacrosse of his career right now, especially in the last two games," said Pressler. "That's what you need your two-year captain and four-year starter to step up and Peter is doing that now when we need him the most."

Thursday's visitors weren't going away, though, and Cody Marquis capitalized on a JK Poirier (Coatesville, Pa.) penalty for a man-up goal with 10 to play to get back within a pair. But once again, the Black and Gold responded to the pressure, notching two goals from Sipperly both assisted by McMahon and a man-up score from rookie Collins Gantz (Denver, Colo.) off a pass from Zomerfeld for an 11-6 advantage.

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