MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Senior attack Dan Sipperly (Greenwich, N.Y.) found the back of the net four times while sophomore linemate Shane Morrell (Glen Mills, Pa.) contributed a game-best six points to lead the No. 18/15 Bryant University men's lacrosse team to a 13-6 victory over Robert Morris on the road, clinching a spot in the 2014 Northeast Conference Tournament.
The Bulldogs (11-3, 4-1 NEC) led the entire contest, starting off the game with a four-goal lead and scoring five uninterrupted markers to close out the game despite Robert Morris (5-8, 2-4) pulling back within two late in the third. Bryant dominated the stat sheet in its 11th victory of the season, outshooting the Colonials, 40-33, and winning the ground ball battle, 42-28.
"We knew going into the last two games, we had to get to four wins in the conference," said Bryant head coach Mike Pressler, "and to do that by beating a very good Robert Morris team on the road makes me very, very proud of my guys."
Morrell's six points and four assists both mark career highs, while senior Colin Dunster (Cos Cob, Conn.) added his fifth hat trick of the season and finished with four points on the day. Rookie Tucker James (Essex Fells, N.J.) also added a pair while the Bulldogs received single tallies from sophomore midfielder Collins Gantz (Denver, Colo.) and junior faceoff specialist Kevin Massa (Huntington, N.Y.). Massa was stellar at the X, as well, winning 15-of-21 with 20 ground balls.
"I think we really got back to playing Bryant lacrosse today, and it started with Kevin Massa at the faceoff X and Gunnar Waldt's outstanding performance in the goal again," said Pressler.
Just a minute into the contest, Dunster gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 edge, and Morrell made it 2-0 from 10 yards out 30 seconds later, firing a bounce shot that hit home in high netting. Morrell gave the visitors a three-goal lead off a pass from senior midfielder Alex Zomerfeld (Port Jefferson, N.Y.) minutes later.
The Black and Gold closed out a four-score first with 80 seconds to play in the frame when quick passes from defenseman Connor Dent (Havertown, Pa.) to Morrell to Sipperly ended in a one-timer from the senior attack for a 4-0 lead.
"We talked about our start all week," said Pressler, "and to go up, 4-0, on the road on Robert Morris's senior day just gave our team a great confidence."
Sean Meagher got the second quarter started with the first Colonial goal of the day after winning the host's first faceoff as well, but James got the goal back from the right side off a Dunster assist for a 5-1 margin favoring the Black and Gold.
But the Colonials' 18th-ranked extra-man offense capitalized on the Bulldogs' first flag of the day 9:11 into the second, with JonPatrik Kealey breaking free for a man-up score to close the gap to 5-2.
Bryant would get goals from Sipperly through traffic and from Massa off a faceoff win just 17 seconds apart before Kealey got back on the board for RMU for a 7-3 Bryant lead, but Gantz closed out the half with a goal from Zomerfeld for an 8-3 halftime margin.
In the third, however, Robert Morris dominated the scoreboard and time of possession, breaking through early on an unassisted goal from Jacob Ruest. Eric Rankel cut into Bryant's lead even further, 8-5, with 6:15 on the clock.
Ruest would have cut the game to two just minutes later if not for a spectacular save from sophomore netminder Gunnar Waldt (Freeland, Md.). After being pulled outside the frame of the goal on a Taylor Graves shot, Waldt dove back across the goal mouth to thwart a wide-open Ruest shot in midair and maintain the three-goal margin.
"Gunnar played well in the last two games, but he was back to playing great today," said Pressler. "At times, he makes the spectacular look so routine. I said at the beginning of the year and I'll say it again, Gunnar Waldt is one of the elite Division I goaltenders in the country right now."
Each team would get on the board from there to finish the third, affording Bryant a 9-6 lead entering the final 15 minutes. And Bryant would keep Robert Morris off the board throughout the fourth while scoring four more times – goals from Dunster, James and a pair from Sipperly – to close out the contest with five-straight scores for the 13-6 final.
Waldt made 12 saves in the victory, including five in the fourth quarter, and picked up five ground balls. Robert Morris's goalie combination of Brian Bohn (eight saves) and Matt Bukovac (two) made 10 stops.
Saint Joseph's clinches the top spot and right to host the NEC Tournament with its 21-9 win over Sacred Heart Saturday, while the Bulldogs' victory secures the Black and Gold the No. 2 seed in the playoff picture. The Bulldogs have two games still to play on their 2014 regular-season schedule, starting with Tuesday night's 7 p.m. matchup against intrastate rival Brown. Bryant then wraps up with Senior Day against Wagner College at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bulldog Stadium.