By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
CARLSBAD, Calif. – Two top-10 teams under the lights in the crisp California air had the early makings of a close game. It turned out to be that way. Until one team made their statement.
In a battle of the two defending national champions, No. 9 Concordia-Irvine scored three goals in the final three minutes of the third quarter to break an 8-8 tie, and never looked back en route to a 14-10 victory over No. 7 Grand Canyon University Men’s Lacrosse at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California.
The loss ends the hopes for a second straight Southwestern Lacrosse Conference title for GCU. CUI moves on to play Chapman University in Sunday’s championship game.
“We went back to the way we were at the beginning of the year,” Lopes’ Head Coach Manny Rapkin said. “The offense can’t control the ball, and we’re trying to score on the first dodge. It just doesn’t work that way.”
The back-and-forth contest reached its tipping point after halftime. The Eagles pushed the lead to 8-5 just over three minutes into the third quarter, but GCU answered back with a run to get themselves back in the game. GCU’s Cam Wengreniuk scored his third of the game at 8:57, then within the next five minutes of play, both Cooper Snowbarger and Kyle Crews rifled top-shelf shots to tie up the game at 8 and light up the Lopes’ sideline.
The Eagles, however, would soon get back on track. A minute and a half after Crews’ goal, CUI’s Brandon Mayo broke the tie with a hard-angle goal from the right side, then added to the lead with his hat-track goal two minutes later to end a lengthy possession. Concordia wasn’t finished, though, breaking a quick GCU possession a minute later and turning back upfield. Irvine’s Jackson Woodard moved the ball ahead to Sean Goodell in transition, who then whistled a shot past Lopes’ goaltender Brad Hookom with 26 seconds left in the quarter. The three-goal run ignited the already lively Concordia bench, and played a big role in the Eagles dealing the final blow in the fourth quarter.
GCU’s Jack Lamey quickly scored with a step-back hesitation shot 16 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Lopes much-needed life, but that would be as close as they would get before the Eagles put together another scoring run to stave off the Lopes. Over the game’s next nine minutes, Tanner Jones, Jonah Rinaldi and Woodard netted their only goals of the game, giving Concordia its largest lead of the game at 14-9. Wengreniuk’s fourth goal of the game would finish off the game’s scoring with just over a minute left.
A key reason for Irvine’s victory and their second-half play was the barrage of shots GCU had to defend. The Eagles outshot the Lopes overall, 47-25, including a 23-11 edge in the second half. The 14 goals and 47 shots by CUI were the most GCU has given up all season.
“When you’re not controlling the ball, there is no momentum,” Rapkin said. “When we have the ball for maybe 10 minutes on offense, there is no momentum.”
Lamey opened the scoring a minute into the game, but that would be the only lead for GCU. Concordia’s Jacob Aho answered 40 seconds later, then Goodell did the same at 10:17 of the first quarter to give Irvine their first lead of the game. With Wengreniuk’s four goals and Lamey’s two, Cody Clark also netted two goals for his team-leading 38 goals on the year.
“The defense did a great job,” Rapkin said. “They battled. Just the offense couldn’t get it done.”
The loss now means the Lopes must hope they’ll earn one of the four at-large selections for the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) National Championships, which begin May 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The final bracket will be revealed next week.