Dowling midfielder Matthew Sutherland protects the ball from Mercyhurst midfielder...

Dowling midfielder Matthew Sutherland protects the ball from Mercyhurst midfielder Brad Romancik. (March 24, 2012) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For Mercyhurst, ranked No. 1 in the nation in Division II men's lacrosse, road trips across the broadside of Pennsylvania to eastern Long Island are normally trying.

The Erie, Pa.,-based Lakers had another wrinkle in their journey this time -- two hours in, the air conditioning on the team bus stopped working. The team had to be split up, crammed into vans, and traveled the remaining seven hours over two days.

Then they had the task of holding off upset-minded Dowling.

No. 3 Dowling (4-1) fell just short in front of 1,438 Saturday, losing 7-6 in a tight game that featured three ties and a frantic flurry in the game's final minute.

With the current four-team NCAA Tournament setup, all losses get magnified. But Golden Lions coach Tim Boyle doesn't view yesterday's defeat as a crushing blow.

"We have one loss," Boyle said. "We're through a lot of hard teams, we're pretty battle-tested. Now we just have to do what we're supposed to do."

If anything, the Lions made a statement against the defending national champions. Dowling stifled one of the top offenses in the country -- Mercyhurst averaged 14 goals per game coming in -- and had two good opportunities to tie in the final minute that were unsuccessful.

A goal by Michael Brennan with 42.6 seconds left momentarily tied the score but it was ruled to be in the crease. A last-second shot by Tom Cleary sailed high as time expired.

Dowling committed 11 turnovers in the first quarter and fell behind 3-0. But they settled and turn the game into a stalemate. The Golden Lions held a 6-5 lead into the fourth quarter.

"We just really wanted to get them out of their comfort zone," Boyle said. "We wanted to stay in their hip pocket and not give their shooters an opportunity to step down and free their hands because they can really rip the ball."

Mercyhurst proved its resilience. Brian Scheetz tied the game early in the fourth and Kyle Kallay put home the go-ahead goal with 3:30 remaining.

"We had a miscommunication with one of our defensive guys and we just left him wide open," goalie Ryan Dougherty said.

Dowling outshot Mercyhurst 39-26 and collected 24 more groundballs (40-16). Their shots also hit the pipes five times Saturday.

"Their defense was excellent," attack Billy Richardson said. "The goalie played really well. That's why they're one of the top teams."

Next year, the tournament expands to eight teams, allowing a little bit more room for error. But that's then.

Now, Dowling might lose some sleep over this game, while Mercyhurst's vans will feel a little more comfy on its long ride back.

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