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Albany advances to Final Four for first time

Denver Trevor Baptiste (9) and Albany Troy Reh

Denver Trevor Baptiste (9) and Albany Troy Reh (10) battle for a ball during the Denver Pioneers at the Albany Great Danes on May 19, 2018. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

Purple rain. Purple reign.

Albany, cheered on by thousands wearing the school’s primary color in, presumably, waterproof layers, made history on Saturday. The Great Danes held off Denver, 15-13, in a thrilling NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse quarterfinal at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.

“Talk about living up to the billings. It was an unbelievable game. Like a national championship game,” Albany coach Scott Marr said after his team advanced to the sport’s Final Four for the first time in school history, where the Danes will face Yale on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., in the semifinals.

“The crowd was so loud and we fed off that energy,” long-stick midfielder Troy Reh from Rocky Point said of the 6,486 who braved the elements. It clearly was a partisan crowd that might have been twice as large if not for the inclement weather. The rain, at times a downpour during the opening game, let up a bit in the second half. Neither team, did, however.

Troy and his twin brother Justin, an attack, gave the more than 100 Reh family members and friends in the crowd something to shout about early. They combined on a goal two minutes in that gave Albany a 3-0 lead. “Justin gave me a little heads up – a sign of when to cut,” said Troy, who also had two groundballs and two caused turnovers. Justin Reh had two goals and two assists as part of Albany’s typically balanced attack.

Tehok Nanticoke, Jakob Patterson, Sean Eccles and Kyle McClancy (Bayport) each had a hat trick for Albany (16-2) and Connor Fields, still not 100 percent after a sprained MCL suffered in late March, added three assists. Colton Jackson scored four goals and Joe Reid three for Denver (13-4).

Then there was the X-factor, the much-hyped, much-anticipated matchup between senior Trevor Baptiste, the all-time NCAA career leader in faceoff wins (with 1,158) and sophomore T.D. Ierlan, who set the NCAA single-season record for faceoff wins in the fourth quarter Saturday. He now has 341, two more than Brendan Fowler of Duke had in 2013. Fittingly, this fascinating game within the game, was a dead heat. Each won 15.

“T.D. was a warrior. Trevor had to fight for every one of his 15,” Marr said.

Ierlan, 5-9, 175, said he was honored “to go against the best. I’ve been watching film of him since high school and I watched film of every of his games this year.”

Baptiste, 5-10, 230, said, “It was a battle. I made adjustments and he did a good job of adjusting to my adjustments. Give credit to their wings, too.”

Troy Reh was one of them, along with McClancy, the former Bayport-Blue Point star who added two assists and three ground balls. “We knew it was a big matchup at X, but we knew it was all about the wings,” Reh said. “We were able to find the ball.”

With no clear-cut advantage on faceoffs or ground balls (both teams had 25), this shootout came down to who capitalized on the frequent scoring chances.

The Great Danes (15-2), clinging to an 11-9 lead entering the fourth, finally built an insurmountable 15-11 margin with 2:08 left on a second straight goal by McClancy. He also had scored at 6:14 following Ierlan’s record-breaking faceoff win. “I think Kyle is the best two-way middie in the country,” Marr said.

Reid and Colton McCaffrey scored in the final minute for Denver, but Ierlan won the final draw, getting it to Fields and enabling Albany to run out the game clock but not, happily for their fan following known as the Dane Train, the season. “At that point, I knew we had it,” Ierlan said.

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