Mocs and Spartans Meet in SSC Title Bout
LAKELAND - This Saturday, the top teams in the conference will square off as second-seed and ninth-ranked Florida Southern (11-3, 4-1 SSC) travels west for a 7 p.m. showdown with top-seed and sixth-ranked Tampa (14-2, 5-0 SSC) for all the marbles in the inaugural Sunshine State Conference Men's Lacrosse Tournament Final.
In their previous meeting on March 15, Tampa not only scored four goals in the third quarter to break open a 5-5 tie, but the Spartan defense kept the Moccasins off the board until 7:36 remained in the fourth quarter as Florida Southern fell 12-6 at the Naimoli Family Athletic and Intramural Complex on the University of Tampa campus.
It was after this loss that the Mocs went on an eight-game winning streak over several tough in-region opponents, earning them the second-seed in the SSC Tournament where they dismantled Saint Leo, 18-7, in last week's semifinal contest at Barnett Field.
In the latest NCAA Regional standings released Wednesday afternoon, Florida Southern ranked fifth in the South Region while Tampa ended up in third. With the loss by Pfeiffer - ranked fourth in the South Region - to Mount Olive in the Conference Carolina Tournament Semifinal on Wednesday, a win against Tampa should be more than enough to guarantee the Mocs a spot in the NCAA Tournament. However, head coach Marty Ward is only focused on what happens this Saturday.
"We are only concerned about the four quarters ahead of us," Ward stated. "At the end of the game on Saturday, we'll know where we stand in the regional rankings."
However, considering who their opponent is on Saturday, a win over Tampa is not a given. While the Spartans struggled early in their semifinal match against Rollins this past Saturday, along with failing to score more than eight goals in their two losses to Limestone and Mercyhurst, their offense is still incredibly explosive and demands the respect of opposing coaches.
UT currently leads the nation in total goals scored with 236, and is sixth in the country in goals scored per game with 14.75. Leading the Tampa offense is 2014 SSC Player of the Year Conor Whipple with 45 goals and 39 assists for a conference and Division II-best 84 points. Fellow attackman and SSC Co-Newcomer of the Year Jake Rooney is another Tampa scoring threat, having tallied 65 points on 57 goals and eight assists. Another scorer for the Spartans is Mike Morris, who scored three times in their win over the Moccasins in mid-March. The sophomore is currently third on the team with 33 points off 23 goals and 10 assists.
Not to be overshadowed by their offense, the Tampa defense has quietly been one of the best in the SSC. Led by All-SSC defensive honorees Marty Heyn and Larry Gress, Tampa ranks eighth in the country in goals allowed per game (7.44) and is second in the conference behind Rollins in caused turnovers (128). Between the pipes, Second Team All-SSC selection Andrew Failla leads the conference in save percentage (.600) and goals against average (7.13).
But don't count out the Mocs offense, either. Florida Southern is tied for second in the country in goals scored and goals scored per game. FSC has put 212 goals past opposing goalkeepers this season, averaging 15.14 scores per contest to tie with Lenoir-Rhyne in both statistical categories. They are also second in the conference behind Tampa in goals scored (212), and they lead the conference in man-up goals (38) and man-up scoring percentage (.418).
Leading the vaunted Florida Southern offense is First Team All-SSC selection Dane Sorensen (Victoria, British Columbia). Sorensen currently leads the country with 61 goals, and his 13 assists puts him third in Division II with 74 points. In their Semifinal game against Saint Leo, the attackman put up an unbelievable 12 points on 10 goals and a pair of assists to lead the Mocs to an 18-7 victory over the Lions. His epic performance broke program records for goals and points in a single game.
Also powering the Moccasin offense are a pair of Second Team All-SSC freshmen, Grant VanOverbeke (Rosemount, Min.) and Cody Dyer (Slingerlands, N.Y.). VanOverbeke, the 2014 SSC Co-Newcomer of the Year, has tallied 35 goals and 32 assists for 67 points, third best in the conference and sixth best in the NCAA, and Dyer currently ranks third on the team with 30 goals and 15 assists for 45 points.
The Florida Southern midfield is also in possession of a pair of Second Team All-SSC selections. Senior Chris Murphy (Camillus, N.Y.) received conference honors after tallying 20 goals and nine assists for 29 points on the year, and senior Dan Krispinsky (Fort Myers, Fla.) has gone 186-312 at the face-off circle and scooped up 71 groundballs to go along with the two goals he's scored this year.
Southern's defense is no slouch, either, tying for second in the conference with Tampa in caused turnovers per game (8.00) and ranking second in man-down success (.746) and third in caused turnovers (112). 75% of the Moccasin starting defense was named First Team All-SSC on Tuesday, showing just how well the defense has played this season. Senior DJ Lubs (Rockford, Mich.) and junior Trenell Boggans (Syracuse, N.Y.) have combined for 33 caused turnovers and 57 groundballs, while senior David Beaumont (New Westminster, British Columbia) has picked up 42 groundballs and forced 11 turnovers at the LSM position to go along with his three goals and three assists. Also playing well since being slotted into the starting lineup is senior Brad Gysin (Naptown, Ind.), causing 11 turnovers and picking up 14 groundballs in 12 starts this season.
In goal, freshman Matt Lalli (New Milford, Conn.) has played well for the Mocs, averaging 8.07 saves per game, possessing a save percentage of .481 and having a goals against average of 9.74. Lalli has posted double-digit save totals five times this season, including a high of 13 in last week's semifinal win over Saint Leo. The freshman has also been named SSC Defensive Player of the Week twice this season, once for the week of March 3 and again for the week of March 31.
From the opening face-off to the final whistle, it will be a grueling battle between the top two teams in the conference with not only the first Sunshine State Conference men's lacrosse title on the line, but the chance to represent the SSC in the NCAA Tournament. According to Ward, he and his troops are more than ready for the opportunity.
"We're always looking forward to playing another four quarters together," said the fourth-year head coach. "This is a group of guys that love the game, and we are fortunate to have earned the right to play for the SSC Championship."