The Rivermen powered their way to the inaugural National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) championship at The Rinks Irvine. The Ohio champs fought off a 1-0 series deficit to defeat the Fighting Bison twice Saturday night en route to raising the championship plaque.
“It was awesome,” said Rivermen forward Matt Blevins. “It was just nice to be able to come back from last night and win both those games. It was an amazing opportunity and experience.”
Needing a win to stay alive in the series, the Rivermen used goals from 10 different players to capture Game Two, 23-7. Trailing 5-4 in the first quarter, the Rivermen blew open the game by scoring the contest’s next 12 goals. University of Detroit Mercy midfielder Matt Blevins was one of the catalysts on offense, as he scored four goals and added three assists.
“Once we get rolling, we can pound teams,” he said. “I think it’s just that momentum switch that we always have to get. On offense, our mentality was to shoot the ball and not think about it too much. We just wanted to get shots on net and try to see if we could go from there.”
Along with Blevins, Noah Gleeson (4+2) and Nick Musci (5+3) were also key contributors to the Rivermen’s highest goal-scoring output of the season. Musci scored all of his team-high five goals during the 12-0 run that spanned over 27 minutes. The Ohio State product notched a six-point effort (5+1) and was awarded a traditional wooden stick as the NCBS Championship’s Most Valuable Player.
“We came back both games, which is nothing new for us,” he said. “We just kept chipping away and doing what we needed to do. We knew if we did that, good things would happen.”
The Rivermen and goalie Matt Huizenga played stifling defense, frustrating an offense that posted 14 goals the previous night. Huizenga made 28 saves, including stopping all 14 shots he faced in the second quarter. He made his most significant stop with 7:57 to play in the second, denying Jake Taylor on a penalty shot with his team ahead 8-5.
“The big thing was that Huizenga settled in really early for us,” said Rivermen coach Dan Hardy. “Our defense gave up a couple of bad goals earlier but we made some adjustments and slowed things down. Credit to the Fighting Bison, they battled. They were very tough. No. 13, Taylor, was awesome all weekend. They made it difficult for us.”
Taylor, who led the Fighting Bison with five goals, ended the Rivermen’s run in the third frame with back-to-back goals to make it 16-7. The incoming University of Notre Dame freshman completed the series with a team-high 10 goals and two assists. TK Hammond, who will enter his freshman year at the University of Denver in the fall collected one goal and three assists. Hammond, who has been to USBOXLA Nationals before with Denver Elite was proud to represent the CCBLL (Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse Lacrosse) at the first-ever national championship.
“It was awesome. I have been playing box for probably 11 years,” he said. “This is the pinnacle of box lacrosse before college and in college. This was amazing.”
The Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse Lacrosse champions led both games 2-0 and had the opportunity to immediately bounce back in the tiebreaker after suffering their first loss in 11 games. The National Championship came down to a 15-minute tiebreaker game to determine the first-ever NCBS champion. With the season on the line, Hammond took control early by netting two goals 32 seconds apart to give the Fighting Bison a 2-0 lead.
“I was feeling it after the first two goals but we needed to possess more on offense,” he said. “[The result] didn’t come out the way we wanted it to.”
Despite a spectacular performance from goalie Skylar “Moose” Whinery, the Rivermen would not be denied. Once again, they reeled off a tremendous run to race into the lead. Spencer Towne scored 28 seconds after Hammond’s second goal to get his team within one. Blevins then connected from the left side to tie the contest at two. Noah Gleeson, who had six points on Saturday, gave the Rivermen the lead for good at 5:45.
Once again, with the game still in doubt, it was Huizenga who came up with a huge save on Taylor. The Rivermen netminder blocked a shot headed for the far corner to preserve a 4-2 lead. His attention to detail helped the veteran stopper make the key save at 6:34 of the tiebreaker game.
“When he had the penalty shot, I did what I normally do. I baited and went back right to where I was,” he said. “I watched him notice what I did and knew he wouldn’t fall for that again. He is one of the best shooters in our age group, so I made sure not to do the same thing. I tried to change it up. I totally guessed, and it totally worked out. I was very pleased with that.”
To end the game, Musci tacked on one goal, and Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (OCBLL) MVP Jack Hannah scored twice to complete an incredible night.
“It feels good writing [our names] into history as the first champions,” said Musci. “I am pumped to do it with these guys. It’s something we will share forever.”
“The key was adjusting the game plan. They came out way faster than us and way more physical [in Game One]. We came into today and knew they were short numbers, but we had to play tough. Things went well for us tonight.”
The Fighting Bison entered the game with just 11 runners and one goalie, which was trimmed down to 10 runners after a first-half injury. But the team that ruled the CCBLL with 11 wins made no excuses after the game.
“They were the better team. Even if we were healthy, it would have been a battle, and I don’t know if we would have won that,” said Fighting Bison coach Jeremy Noble. “Credit goes to the team from Ohio. They played great lacrosse and played the game the right way. They deserved to be national champions.”