By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
With the Sabres’ and Bandits’ seasons coming to, um, premature ends, it’s clearly time to turn to other, fresh (for me) areas for sporting entertainment.
Wednesday offered just such an opportunity. It featured an NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament game between Canisius and Robert Morris at the Demske Sports Complex. The bleachers were rather close to full at the game’s beginning, thanks in part to the group of Colonial fans that made the drive up from the Pittsburgh area.
Everyone that was in attendance, though, was thrilled to leave their coats behind and see a postseason game in Buffalo – lacrosse’s answer to “The Big Dance.” Most of the Golden Griffins’ games had been played in temperatures below 50 degrees this season. With winter turning almost instantly into summer, tailgating took place in the Demske parking lot and footballs were tossed around by a few. It felt like an event, which was welcome, and the biggest home crowd of the season reacted accordingly.
There’s always a learning curve when attending a brand-new sport. Once of these days, someone will have to explain the substitution rules to me – they looked like crazed fire drills. After 10 years of the indoor game, seeing someone wield a long stick was impressive. At least I I did hear the explanation of why the sport has a shot clock even if it isn’t used all the time. (They turn it on when a team doesn’t appear to be trying hard enough to create scoring chances, in order to prevent stalling.) But there’s plenty of athleticism, hand-eye coordination and teamwork available in the outdoor game, and I didn’t feel too much like a stranger in a strange land while watching.
A BAD STRETCH
Even so, there was one good lesson that carried over from indoor lacrosse. When your team gives up seven straight goals at the end of the first half, your team is in trouble. Canisius was that team, and the Golden Griffins trailed by 7-1 after 30 minutes and went on to a 12-6 loss.
“We had 20 turnovers,” Canisius coach Mark Miyashita said. “In the second quarter, there were opportunities that we had converted in previous games, but we didn’t do that this time. We had to play back in our end too much.”
One of the reasons for the offensive problems might have been that Robert Morris’ roster was just too big. The Colonials checked in with six players checking in at 6-foot-3 or bigger. Sometimes you really can’t see the forest for the trees.
“It was hard to get around them,” senior Connor Kearnan of the Griffins said. “We didn’t move our feet fast enough. We didn’t play the way we wanted to play.”
“They’re big, they’re athletic, they’re fast,” Miyashita said. “They had the size advantage. It’s something we’ll have to emulate.”
TOO FAR AHEAD
Canisius found a bit of a scoring touch in the second half, but Robert Morris was more than happy to trade goals by then. The Golden Griffins never got closer than five goals the rest of the way.
Steven Coss and Matt Boissonneault had two goals for Canisius, while Kearnan – the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year – had three assists for the Griffins. While the senior would have preferred to keep playing, Kearnan still met a goal of playing in the NCAA Tournament while finishing his college career.
“Today was exhilarating,” he said. “I sure wish we could have cleaned things up, but I have no complaints.”
Canisius had been picked to finish sixth in the seven-team MAAC, and barely made the playoffs as the fourth seed. Two overtime victories later, the Griffins had advanced to the sport’s biggest stage. Oddly, with Wednesday’s loss they finished the season with a losing record at 8-9.
But no one noticed. It didn’t take Miyashita weeks to gain some perspective on the journey and what it meant to all concerned. Cinderella still had a good time at the ball for a while.
“I wouldn’t have traded this week, this year, for anything,” he said.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)