Give the Grand Canyon University men’s lacrosse offense nearly every possession off face-offs and space for senior attacker Joe Balestrieri and the Lopes will score … repeatedly.
Top-ranked GCU advanced to the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference championship game with a 15-9 semifinal victory Friday against No. 13 California-Santa Barbara in Carlsbad, Calif. Balestrieri’s seven-goal semifinal performance helped put the Lopes in Sunday’s 1:30 p.m. SLC championship against rival No. 7 Arizona State.
“It wasn’t pretty but, for the most part, we did what we’re supposed to do,” GCU coach Manny Rapkin told the SLC YouTube live stream. “We knew what we were going to get and the guys did well.”
UCSB opened the scoring by winning the first faceoff but Lopes freshman Cole McLafferty won 17 of the next 18 face-offs over the first three periods. Balestrieri scored two of GCU’s four unanswered goals for a 4-1 lead and the Lopes never trailed again.
The Gauchos used a zone defense and slow offense to cut the GCU lead to 4-3 early in the second quarter, 7-5 late in the second quarter and 9-6 early in the third quarter. But Balestrieri blew the game open with three consecutive third-quarter goals for a 12-6 lead that stretched to 13-6 when GCU freshman midfielder Cooper Snowbarger’s drive set up freshman midfielder Cian Peterson’s second goal.
“We knew they were coming out in a zone so we knew it was going to be a slow game,” Balestrieri told the SLC YouTube live stream. “We were going to have to really work on our passes. Make sure on our passes and work together. I think that my teammates just got me open. They worked the ball really fast and it all worked out.”
Snowbarger also added two goals while sophomore Jack Lamey, sophomore Sean McDonald, junior Ryan McDonald and senior Austin Ekeroth each scored a goal. Ekeroth also assisted on four of the Lopes’ first eight goals.
Lamey, the Lopes’ top defensive player, set the second-half tone when he picked up a loose ball off the half’s opening faceoff and scored in six seconds for a 9-5 GCU lead. Balestrieri scored all seven of his goals from the perimeter and in the first three quarters.
In its second week atop the MCLA national poll, GCU (11-1) will take an eight-game winning streak into Sunday’s championship game.