LEWISBURG, Pa. – The No. 11/12 Bucknell men's lacrosse team clinched a share of the Patriot League regular-season title with a 14-7 rout of rival Lehigh on Friday night at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium.
On a night the Bison (11-3, 7-1 Patriot League) celebrated their seniors and welcomed their alumni back to campus, it was a pair of seniors who stole the show in their victory over the Mountain Hawks (8-6, 5-3 Patriot League). Will Sands assisted on half of Bucknell's goals, setting school records in both single-season assists and career assists in the process, while Sean O'Brien netted five goals and also notched an assist.
Bucknell, which shared the 2018 Patriot League regular-season crown with No. 16/14 Navy and No. 6/8 Loyola, will host Boston University on Tuesday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals. The Bison ended up with the third seed due to the goal differential between the three co-champions.
Early on, Lehigh used strong play in the face-off x and long possessions to keep things close. After Bucknell took a 1-0 lead on a Tommy Sopko strike at 12:31 of the first quarter, the Mountain Hawks responded by netting the next two goals. O'Brien and Tom Smith then found the back of the net just over a minute apart to give the Bison a 3-2 lead through the first quarter.
The Mountain Hawks dominated the early minutes of the second quarter, staking themselves a 5-3 lead at the 10:09 mark thanks to a 3-0 run. But Bucknell responded with a 5-0 run fueled by Sands, O'Brien and Smith to build an 8-5 lead. During that run, Sands dished out two assists to O'Brien and two to Smith; Connor O'Hara put an exclamation mark on the run by taking a feed from Sopko and finding the back of the net from his knees with 15 seconds left in the half.
While Lehigh's Ian Strain beat the buzzer by a second to halt the Bison's run at five, it did little to swing the momentum to his team's favor. Bucknell's stifling defense held the Mountain Hawks without a goal until the 1:45 mark of the fourth quarter, a stretch of 28:15.
In that span, the Bison offense again netted five unanswered goals. O'Brien keyed that 5-0 run with three goals and one assist; Duke Repko, a senior defensive midfielder, netted his first career goal at the 7:07 mark of the fourth quarter, causing Bucknell's bench to erupt.
After Ryan Klose got Lehigh back on the board, Will Yorke completed the scoring with 1:07 left to play. The moment the clock hit zero, the Bison stormed the field in celebration of their ninth Patriot League regular-season title and first since 2011.
Sands (7a), O'Brien (5g-1a), O'Hara (2g-2a), Smith (3g-1a), Yorke (2g) and Sopko (1g-1a) had multi-point outings for Bucknell while Christian Klipstein made eight saves, six of which came in the first half. Klipstein also tied O'Brien and Brad Landry for the game-high in ground balls (5) while Matt Gilray paced all players with three caused turnovers.
Jarett Witzal won eight of 19 face-offs and collected four ground balls. After struggling in the first half, he won six of his seven face-offs in the second half.
For Lehigh, Lucas Spence (2g-2a) and Nolan Apers (2g) led the attack while James Spence made five saves. Bucknell held advantages in shots (43-25) and ground balls (33-23) and also turned the ball over five fewer times.
Bucknell's seven Patriot League wins represent its highest total in program history. With the additions of Loyola and Boston University, the league's regular season expanded to eight games in 2014. Before this campaign, the Bison had never won more than five Patriot League games since those squads joined the league.
Sands continued to add to his illustrious legacy. On the strength of his seven-assist outing, he set new school records in single-season assists (53) and career assists (139) with the postseason still on the horizon. Sands entered the game needing three assists to break David Dickson's single-season school record, set in 2013, and seven to break the school record in assists, which was shared by Bucknell Athletics Hall of Famer members Pete von Hoffmann (1976-79) and Chris Cara (2002-05).
Sands also surpassed the 70-point threshold and will enter the postseason with 73. Only three other Bison have recorded at least 70 points in a single season, and two are in the Bucknell Athletics Hall of Fame.
O'Brien reached the 40-goal plateau with his five tallies. One of just six Bison to reach this milestone in a single campaign, he also set a new Bucknell record in single-season shots (135) during the contest. With 36 goals on the year, O'Hara is in striking distance of reaching this milestone as well.
The Bison will look to carry the momentum from their historic regular season into postseason competition.
WILL SANDS! That assist on Sean O'Brien's goal was his 70th point of the 2018 campaign. Only three other Bison have reached that milestone in a single season, and two are in the Bucknell Athletics Hall of Fame! #rayBucknell #EnterSandsman pic.twitter.com/KujPSghp2T— Bucknell Men's Lax (@Bucknell_MLAX) April 21, 2018