Considering how Stony Brook started this season, it was a surreal scene.
Red and white lacrosse sticks, jerseys and gloves were strewn across the LaValle Stadium field, with the men in white jerseys piling on top of each other. After a 1-7 start, it was hard to imagine such a celebration.
The top-seeded Seawolves beat third-seeded Albany, 14-8, Saturday afternoon at LaValle Stadium to win the America East Conference title and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth. It will be Stony Brook's third appearance in the NCAAs and second in three years.
"In a transition year, both in the coaching staff and the loss of the best senior class this program has ever had, I think it's a real tribute to the seniors for sticking with things,'' said coach Jim Nagle, who's in his first season at Stony Brook. "It's a tribute to the entire lacrosse team that we were able to play our best lacrosse on the last day.''
Actually, there will be more days of lacrosse to come. The Seawolves will learn the identity of their first-round opponent (likely UMass or Loyola) at 9 o'clock Sunday night.
Stony Brook (7-9) is the third team to make the NCAA Tournament with a losing record, joining Hobart in 2002 and Providence in 2007. But the Seawolves will go into the tournament hot, having won six of their final eight games, including victories in all but one conference game. The 14 goals they scored Saturday are a season high.
"I thought we did really well toward the end of the season just accepting things,'' said attack Jeff Tundo, who had a season-high four goals and an assist. "We put it together here today, fully, for the first time.''
Stony Brook played one of its finest quarters all season in the third period, outscoring Albany 6-0 to take an 11-5 lead. It ended up being a seven-goal run, as senior Graham Adams scored his first goal of the season at the 12:05 mark of the fourth quarter to make it 12-5.
Tundo had a goal and an assist during the run, but the Seawolves also got an unlikely contribution from faceoff man JJ Laforet. The junior long-stick midfielder scored his third and fourth goals of the season, and the way he scored them seemed particularly deflating to Albany (5-11). The scores came off draws -- 16 and 13 seconds, respectively, after SBU goals.
"All Coach told me to do was battle on the faceoff, pick up the ball and go from there,'' Laforet said. "So it's not like [the goals] were planned or anything. It just happened.''
Tundo, Laforet and Kyle Moeller were named to the All- Tournament team and goalie Sean Brady was named Most Outstanding Player after his 11-save performance. Moeller and Brady were part of a defensive unit that held America East Player of the Year Joe Resetarits to one goal and one assist.
Ty Thompson (three goals) scored for Albany with eight seconds left in the first half to tie it at 5, but the Great Danes were held scoreless the next 18:21 as Stony Brook went on its 7-0 run.
Said Brady, "We said to ourselves, 'Hey, whoever controls this third quarter is gonna win this game.' ''
Stony Brook controlled the third quarter. Then it controlled the postgame celebration.