RICHMOND, Va. – The top-seeded Air Force Falcons defeated the second-seeded Richmond Spiders, 9-6, for the second consecutive year in the Southern Conference Championship at Robins Stadium on the campus of the University of Richmond. Sophomore Air Force defenseman Brandon Jones, who nabbed a game-high seven ground balls in addition to one caused turnover, was named the championship's Most Outstanding Player after leading the Falcons'' defense in holding the Spiders to just six goals on the day.
With today's victory, Air Force (12-5, 6-1 SoCon) earned the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship. The Spiders close the season at 12-4 overall and 6-1 in SoCon regular season games.
Air Force junior attackman Andrew Tien, who scored the game winning goal in last year's SoCon Championship game between Air Force and Richmond, led the Falcons' offensive effort after notching his third career hat trick with a total of three goals, tying the game high.
Layne Collins, a junior attackman for the Spiders, led the Richmond offense with three goals on 10 shots. Senior attackman J.P. Forester, sophomore attackman Teddy Hatfield and sophomore attackman/midfielder Patrick Shea each notched one goal.
It was Air Force that opened the game's scoring as junior attackman and SoCon Player of the Year Chris Walsch found the back of the net on an assist from the Jones just 36 seconds into the game. Tien notched his first of three goals exactly one minute later on an unassisted goal to give Air Force an early 2-0 lead. The Spiders would even up the score, 2-2, heading into the second quarter. The Spiders got on the scoreboard with a Forester goal on an assist from Hatfield with 4:41 remaining in the first period. Richmond's Collins tallied his first goal of the championship with 44 seconds left in the first period on an assist from Spider longstick midfielder Austin Cates.
Air Force stretched its advantage to 4-2 in the second quarter, which would be the beginning of a 6-0 run for the Falcons that would run into the third period. After Cates was sent to the penalty box for holding, Air Force's Jack Flynn netted his first and only goal of the game on an assist from Walsch, taking advantage of the man-up situation with 10:41 left in the half. Tien would score the final goal of the half with 9:31 remaining in the second period, giving the Falcons a two-goal lead entering the locker room at halftime. Air Force led the Spiders in shots on-goal at halftime, 11-7.
After three minutes of play in the third period, Tien claimed his third career hat trick off a high-to-high shot that snuck past the helmet of Spider senior goalkeeper Benny Pugh. To make matters worse for the Spiders following Tien's third quarter goal, Falcon faceoff specialist Trent Harper won the draw against Richmond's Peter Moran and scooped the loose ball, while avoiding a multiple Spider checks and fired a shot on-the-run that got past Pugh, prompting Richmond fourth-year head coach Dan Chemotti to call timeout. Despite the Richmond timeout, Air Force maintained their momentum as senior midfielder Austin Smith found the back of the net on pass by Walsch from X. Harper would again win the faceoff following Smith's goal, picking up the ground ball and throwing a behind-the-back pass to teammate Jeremiah Hemme, a sophomore longstick midfielder, who found an open Matthew Schwartz cutting across the crease who buried it over top of Pugh's off-hand shoulder. Richmond would snap the Falcons' six-goal run halfway through the third, recording three straight goals. Collins tallied his second goal of the game on a wrap-around goal from X, cutting the Falcon lead to five. With 3:36 remaining in the third period, Hatfield tallied his 33rd goal of the season for the Spiders on an assist from sophomore midfielder Adrian Nash. Two minutes later, Collins claimed his hat trick on a spin move from X, gaining top-side leverage on the Falcon defenseman and firing a bounce shot that snuck under Falcon goalkeeper Mitch Rose, who totaled 13 saves and was named to the SoCon All-Tournament Team. Air Force led Richmond, 8-5, entering the final period of regulation.
The Spiders would carry their momentum from the third period into the fourth, but it was all too brief to erase the Falcon lead. Richmond freshman midfielder Tyler Shoults would score the Spiders first and only goal of the fourth quarter, narrowing the Richmond deficit to two, 8-6. The Falcons would find the back of the net one more time as sophomore attackman Cameron Carter split three Spider defensemen while dodging to the middle of the Falcons' offensive zone and placing a shot right under Pugh's stick with 3:55 remaining in regulation.
Pugh, the SoCon's Defensive Player of the Year, tallied 10 saves after facing 25 Falcon shots and achieved .526 save percentage on the day for the Spiders.
Air Force's Sheamus Larkin, a junior, earned the Pinnacle Award as the student-athlete with the highest GPA with a minimum of two semesters on the winning team. Larkin boasts a 3.90 GPA as an Operations Research major.
Air Force will find out its NCAA tournament draw on Sunday, May 7 at 9 p.m ET. The selection show will be broadcast on ESPNU.
SoCon Men's Lacrosse Championship Awards
Most Outstanding Player
Brandon Jones, Air Force, So., D
Trent Harper, Air Force, So., FO
Brandon Jones, Air Force, So., D
Sean LaVine, Air Force, Jr., D
Mitch Rose, Air Force, Sr., GK
Andrew Tien, Air Force, Jr., A
Jon Vandenberg, Furman, Sr., M
Alec Van de Bovenkmap, Furman, Fr., GK
Eric Applegate, Jacksonville, So., M
Ben Gleichenhaus, Jacksonville, Jr., GK
Layne Collins, Richmond, Jr., A
Teddy Hatfield, Richmond, So., A
Peter Moran, Richmond, Sr., M
Pinnacle Award Recipient
Sheamus Larkin, Air Force, Jr., M