With time winding down in regulation in the East Coast Conference championship, Tom Hughes found the perfect moment for his milestone — and then more.
The senior scored, and surpassed, the 100-goal career mark at the most important point of the season as he propelled NYIT to a comeback 9-8 overtime win Saturday over Mercy at LIU Post for the team’s first ECC lacrosse championship. He put in the overtime winner with 19.1 seconds left to set off a celebratory frenzy.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Hughes said. “All at one time in a championship game.”
For a while, it looked like the moments might never come. The No. 1 Bears (14-3, 9-0 ECC) fell behind the Mavericks (12-5, 7-2) in the first quarter 3-1 and tied the game at 3 early. They couldn’t maintain the tie after that, then Hughes scored with 5:07 left to make the deficit 8-7. His 100th goal less than a minute later tied the game at 8.
“All year — second half team,” said Hughes, who had five goals. “Last Saturday, we were down three against this team and came back and won by five. So we just always knew next goal, next goal, keep pushing, keep pushing.”
Will Kistinger, who was named ECC offensive player of the year on Friday, assisted on those final two regulation goals. He had become the go-to choice early in the season while Hughes dealt with an injury, and having both on the field together can put enough pressure on the defense that it might eventually break.
“When I was taking my guy down the alley, I saw they were sliding from the crease, so I was able to slide back and see Tom,” said Kistinger, who had four assists. “He was able to finish.”
In overtime, Hughes saw his moment when the defensive zone he had been facing suddenly didn’t materialize.
“No one slid to me coming up the field, so I just pulled it and it went into the back of the net,” Hughes said of goal No. 101.
The Bears had mounted a comeback in Wednesday’s semifinal as well, turning a one-goal halftime deficit into a 9-7 victory over LIU Post. The third quarter was the breakout in that game, when the Bears scored four unanswered goals. They had to wait later on Saturday, but the theme was the same — a Hughes-infused rally.
“He’s been coming on scoring one goal, two goals here and there and I told him he’s ready to make the big step, which he did today,” coach Bill Dunn said. “And he was really unstoppable.”
Matthew Chanenchuk had a goal and two assists, while Matt Murphy, George Schultz and LeRoy Halftown had a goal each. Alex Seltzer made 11 saves.
The Bears will be watching the NCAA tournament selection show on Sunday to see if their name is called. Despite winning the conference tournament, they are not assured an automatic bid.
Time for more late nerves.
“We’ll enjoy this one tonight, but it’ll set in tomorrow,” Hughes said.