Jeff Tambroni’s No.18 Nittany Lions knew Saturday would be special — the Big Ten regular-season finale held significant weight on their journey to a coveted NCAA Tournament bid. But the Senior Day festivities were also charged with emotion.
Penn State’s senior class honored the memory of goalie Connor Darcey, who tragically passed away in a car accident last summer. The team dedicated the locker room to the beloved goalie with his family on-hand for the ceremony. Darcey’s No. 16 — worn by classmate and fellow Massachusetts native James Burke this season — hung from the back of each net while the Nittany Lions cruised to their fifth victory in a row over Michigan; an emphatic 14-9 sendoff.
— Penn State Lacrosse (@PennStateMLAX) April 30, 2016
With the win, Penn State (8-6, 2-3 Big Ten) captured The Creator’s Trophy which is awarded to either the Nittany Lions, Ohio State, or Michigan, by finishing 2-0 against the others for the first time since 2014.
How It Happened
Junior attackman Nick Aponte broke the scoring drought five minutes into the first quarter to give the Nittany Lions an early lead, but the Penn State offense didn’t fully get rolling until the last few moments of the first frame. Down 2-1 to the Wolverines, Aponte found the back of the net once again, opening the flood gates for six-unanswered goals — two apiece from Mike Sutton and Kevin Hill and one from senior T.J. Sanders.
Michigan (3-10, 0-5 Big Ten), led by head coach John Paul, rattled off a 6-2 run to pull within one of the lead, 9-8, with 12 minutes and change left to play in the third quarter. Sophomore midfielder Sean McCanna, the lone Wolverine to tally two goals during the stretch, piloted the Maize and Blue back into contention. However, Aponte and Sanders promptly opened things up for an 11-8 Penn State lead and some breathing room heading into the fourth quarter. On Friday, Aponte was named to the list of 25 finalists for the Tewaaraton Award — the Heisman of college lacrosse.
A mere :19 seconds seconds later, Hill beat Michigan goalie Gerald Logan to pick up the hat trick and extend the Nittany Lions’ second offensive outburst. Redshirt junior midfielder Matt Florence notched his first goal of the afternoon on Grant Ament’s fourth assist to make it 13-8 with 9:42 left on the clock. Last week’s Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Ament finally broke through with one of his own a little more than a minute later. Then Michigan midfielder Decker Curran rounded out the scoring to make it 14-9.
Though Michigan dominated the faceoff circle 19-7, the Nittany Lions made the most of their 26 shots on goal to earn a crucial conference victory ahead of the Big Ten Tournament. Sophomore goalie Will Schreiner turned in an impressive 12 saves.
Congratulations to all the Nittany Lion seniors! Thanks for everything you’ve done for the Penn State program, James Burke, James Chakey, Ryan Guittare, Tommy O’Neill, T.J. Sanders, John Von Nessen, and Connor Darcey.
Player Of The Game
Nick Aponte | Junior | Attackman
The West Islip, N.Y., native has been nothing short of incredible this season, trailing only T.J. Sanders for the most goals on the team (27-26). Aponte added a game-high four goals and an assist during Saturday’s regular-season finale.
The Nittany Lions will rest up before traveling to Baltimore for the 2016 Big Ten Tournament, hosted by Johns Hopkins this Thursday through Saturday. No. 18 Penn State controls its destiny in terms of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since it lost to Yale in 2013.