With no postseason lacrosse tournament in the East Coast Conference, there is no win- and-in scenario, so even a victory over defending national champion and top-ranked Mercyhurst would not have guaranteed NYIT a spot in the NCAAs. After a 7-6 loss Saturday, there is no hope at all.
"It's gut-wrenching," said freshman attack Ryan Brunet, who had a career-high four goals. His best game as a collegian occurred under the most difficult of circumstances. James Chayka scored his fourth goal of the game with two seconds left to break a tie at 6 and hand NYIT (11-3) the crushing defeat.
NYIT had a two-goal lead with 10:23 left. "We were able to get a lead because our coaches and our guys put in a superb game plan to beat their defense," coach Bill Dunn said. "It was working. Then we stopped winning the faceoffs."
Mercyhurst (11-0) won all five in the final period.
It was a different Mercyhurst team after NYIT took that second two-goal lead. Chayka scored with 7:43 left to bring the Lakers within one and Jake McAndrew tied the score with 6:28 to play. "Once they realized we came out to play, they said we have a team that's probably going to beat us," Brunet said. "I think they decided to step it up."
Mercyhurst scored the first two goals of the game, but Brunet found the back of the net twice against goalie Michael Grace late in the first period. The score remained tied until Brunet scored his third goal with 9:09 to play in the third.
NYIT senior goalie Billy McGee made 11 saves but could not prevent the late assault by Mercyhurst. "Any time it's the fourth quarter, it's time to turn it on," he said. "Unfortunately, they caught a couple of breaks and we didn't. There's no words for it."
It was NYIT's fourth straight loss to Mercyhurst. "Four years like this," McGee said. "You never get used to it. As you get older, each one gets worse.
Only four teams make the postseason tournament in Division II; a committee makes the selections. The field will expand to eight as soon as next season, and the ECC will have a postseason tournament by 2014, Dunn said.
That will not help NYIT for this season, which has two regular-season games remaining. McGee knows a win could have kept NYIT in the postseason conversation. "It was no lock, but it would have definitely helped," he said.
NYIT's other conference loss came against Dowling, which also lost to Mercyhurst. "I think between Mercyhurst, Dowling and us, we are the top three teams in the nation," McGee said.
But only one team may get a chance to prove that.