Only four teams will make next month's NCAA Tournament in Division II men's lacrosse. Third-ranked Dowling, the top D-II team on Long Island through the latest poll, hopes to receive a berth. But the Golden Lions could find themselves eliminated by an early season loss six weeks ago.
Either possibility exists in equal measure.
Dowling's 20-6 victory - its eighth straight - over Lake Erie kept both scenarios in play. Canadian senior attacker John McClure scored four of his seven goals in the first period as Dowling took a 7-1 lead at Golden Lions Stadium in Shirley. McClure leads Dowling with 37 goals. Freshman attack Kevin Sabo of Westhampton Beach had four goals and six assists. Lake Erie (3-6) was led by Keegan Bal's four goals.
Two teams from the East Coast Conference are likely to earn a bid. Top-ranked Mercyhurst (10-0), which handed Dowling (9-1) its only loss, and third-ranked C.W. Post (11-1) are the other contenders.
Dowling, which defeated defending national champion Post last week, is likely to win its three remaining games against unranked teams. Post still has to play at Mercyhurst, and a loss would eliminate the Pioneers and give playoff berths to Mercyhurst and Dowling. But if Post beats Mercyhurst, the selection committee will take over.
"We can't do anything about that, we just have to try and win every game," McClure said. Said teammate Ryan Dougherty : "Every game has to be must-win."
Dowling lost by three goals to Mercyhurst in its first conference game in March. "If you take one loss it could cost you the opportunity to go on to the postseason," Dowling coach Tim Boyle said.
The committee would look at strength of schedule, and, Boyle added, "Your opponents' winning percentage and your opponents' opponents' winning percentage. It's get a little tricky."
Post coach John Jez said, "The sad part is that one team will be sitting home. The won-loss record for most [teams] will be the best season they'll ever have. In this situation, they may not be going."
Only 37 schools play D-II lacrosse, so the NCAA is not likely to expand the postseason field until that number approaches 48.
Dowling certainly has had an outstanding season and for the moment, holds dominion over the usual local lacrosse powers.
"It's always been our goal," said Boyle, who is in his 10th season at Dowling. "We know it's hard to attain because of the tradition that we are up against. We're always thought of as an afterthought . . . We have to prove a lot to the outside world."
Dowling had one NCAA appearance, in 2006, and lost to LeMoyne in the championship game. The Golden Lions want another try, but someone will be denied.
Mercyhurst coach Chris Ryan said, "You get that nasty little triangle of teams beating each other, then it goes to the committee. If you lose the wrong game your season can be over with. You just don't have the luxury of losing a game. Thank goodness I'm not flying a plane over this triangle, I'm just coaching a lacrosse game."