In the Northeast-10 Conference, over the last five years, three teams have shared the spotlight in the sport of men's lacrosse: Merrimack, Le Moyne, and Adelphi.
For Merrimack, that limelight last came in 2010, when the Warriors defeated Le Moyne in overtime to claim the program's second-ever conference crown. But following back-to-back losses in the title game in 2011 and 2012, Merrimack entered this spring with the bar set higher than ever in recent memory.
Heading into the 2013 campaign, with a loaded roster comprised of arguably the top player in the country, as well as the best goaltender, Merrimack had every right to believe that not only would it contend for the top honors in the NE-10, but in the country.
But three games into the season, Merrimack was still searching for a game in which the entire team – offense, defense and goaltending – excelled altogether.
After a season-opening setback on the road to a Limestone team that ranked among the nation's best, the Warriors bounced back with a character-building road win at a nationally ranked Lake Erie squad before easing past AIC in their conference opener.
That all set the stage for a game that had already been marked on everyone's calendar nationwide. Two longtime rivals, pitting the nation's best offense against the country's top defense; a fifth-ranked Merrimack, at home, against No. 1 ranked Le Moyne.
Within itself, the matchup was nothing more than an important regular season tilt between two of the best teams in the conference, region and nation; but in the grand picture of the 2013 season, the Merrimack-Le Moyne showdown on a Tuesday afternoon in late March at Martone-Mejail Field would be remembered as one of the more memorable meetings this season and beyond.
For the Warriors, the contest started slow for an offense that averaged 12 goals per game in their first three games of the season. In fact, the start of the match could not have gone more to script for the Dolphins, who struck for an early goal in the first quarter before doubling their lead late in the frame, giving the visitors a two-goal advantage after the first.
But it was there, in that moment, down by two against one of the top defensive units in the country, that Merrimack turned to its biggest star of the game. Senior netminder Connor (East Lyme, Conn.) withstood the early onslaught and repelled a barrage of chances from a Le Moyne side that soared out of the gate. Because of his heroics, Merrimack remained very much in contention through a period of play.
And to the best offense in the country, those efforts were a welcome sight, because it was only a matter of time until senior Corey Lunney (Little Silver, N.J.), Greg Melaugh (Billerica, Mass.) and company would settle into a groove themselves.
Following a scoreless second period that saw Reagan turn aside chance after chance from the Dolphins, Merrimack came out of the intermission refocused and rejuvenated, looking to slash away at Le Moyne's two-goal lead.
They would not have to wait long, as just 29 seconds into the third quarter, on a man-up situation, Lunney took a feed from Melaugh and fired a laser past Le Moyne goalkeeper Jeff White to put the home side on the scoreboard. Suddenly, with one strike, the daunting task of cracking a Dolphins defensive unit became a realistic one.
The two sides would go back-and-forth over the remainder of the third, and with just under three minutes to play it appeared as if the Warriors would enter the final stanza down by just one.
That, however, all changed in an instant. With 2:17 to play in the third, it was Lunney again, off a feed from classmate Mike Perdie (Wading River, N.Y.), tossing a quick shot past White, and just like that the contest was tied.
From there, though, the Warriors would not relent, capitalizing with the Dolphins on their heels. With just 54 seconds to play in the third stanza, Melaugh who received a pass from sophomore d-man Brandon Waiter (Westport, Conn.) and promptly beat White on another blistering shot, giving the Navy and Gold a sudden, 3-2 lead heading into the final quarter.
And from there on out, the momentum had fully swung in favor of the home side. Merrimack would out-chance the Dolphins through much of the final quarter before sophomore Jamie Shand (Massapequa, N.Y.) made it a two-goal lead with just over five minutes to go.
Le Moyne would trim the deficit back to one moments later, but junior Brett Axelson (Cazenovia, N.Y.) immediately responded with one final strike to ice it, clinching the Warriors' most impressive and most exciting victories – regular season or postseason – in recent memory.
Making the win that much sweeter was the fact that it snapped Le Moyne's 59-game regular season conference winning streak. Coincidentally enough, the Dolphins' last conference loss before that was to the Warriors back in 2007. It also snapped a 33-game regular season winning streak for Le Moyne, as well.
From there on out, Merrimack would ride that success into a nine-game winning streak that helped it clinch its first-ever share of an NE-10 Regular Season title. By season's end, several individuals would lay claim to conference, regional and national honors, while the team itself enjoyed yet another double-digit win season.
At season's end, Merrimack just missed out on an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, but the 2012-13 campaign will always be highlighted by that victory against Le Moyne, one of the more memorable in program history.
This is the third of 10 Merrimack Top Moments of 2012-13 Installments.
10. Women's Crew Wins NE-10 Cup V4 Title
9. Football's Historic Victory Vaults Voegeli to NFL
8. Men's Hockey Team's Dramatic OT Win over BC
7. Men's Lacrosse Stuns Top-Ranked Le Moyne
6. Monday, July 1
5. Wednesday, July 3
4. Friday, July 5
3. Monday, July 8
2. Wednesday, July 10
1. Friday, July 12