The final score doesn't tell the whole story behind Wednesday afternoon's first-round NCAA men's lacrosse game between the Keuka College Storm and SUNY Cortland.
Keuka (14-1) started fast and gave the Red Dragons (16-3) all they could handle for two and a half quarters before falling to the eighth-ranked team in the country, 20-6 at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex.
The loss snapped the Storm's 26-game winning streak dating to the start of the 2013 season.
Junior Derek Pfeiffer (Lee Center, NY/Rome Free Academy) scored three goals, including a pair of man-up tallies, and classmate Eric Saltrelli (Webster, NY/Webster Schroeder) stopped 17 shots for the Storm in the program's first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.
Senior Connor Latimer (Whitby, Ont./Father Leo J. Austin) added a goal with an assist, sophomore Matt Beebe (Syracuse, NY/LaFayette) added one goal with two assists and junior Cory Gray (Seneca Castle, NY/Midlakes) finished with a goal and an assist for the Green and Gold.
Senior Scott Miller (Penn Yan, NY/Penn Yan) collected four groundballs, freshman Trevor Jones (Jamesville, NY/LaFayette) had four groundballs and caused three turnovers and junior Marc Sacco (East Syracuse, NY/East Syracuse-Minoa) added three groundballs in the loss.
Despite the setback, the Storm completed the greatest season in school history, winning their fourth straight North Eastern Athletic Conference championship and setting a school-record for wins in a season.
"This is still an awesome feeling for our team," said Latimer, who capped his stellar two-year career with 154 points on 86 goals with 68 assists, finishing second in points, third in assists and seventh in goals.
"It didn't end the way we wanted it to, but I'm just proud that we came out here, did what we did and made it to the NCAA's. Not many teams get to say that. We fought hard. Not many people believed in us and not many people gave us a chance to win, but we came out and showed that we could play. We gave Cortland a little scare; we just couldn't pull it out in the end."
The Storm took an early 2-0 lead behind crisp passing and some creative playmaking. Latimer fed Beebe for a rocket goal 1:22 into the opening quarter, then it was Latimer's turn to get in on the scoring action. Latimer put a shot into the far corner of the goal 2:47 into the quarter as the Storm took a two-goal lead on the Red Dragons.
The Green and Gold's defense held Cortland scoreless for the first seven minutes. Then the Red Dragons, who lost in the national semifinals to RIT in 2013, rattled off four straight goals in a seven-minute stretch to take a 4-2 lead with 1:06 remaining in the first.
Neither team scored again until freshman Jamie Kuppel (Liverpool, NY/Liverpool) found Gray for a man-up goal 3:24 into the second quarter. But the Red Dragons again went on a mini-run, scoring three unanswered tallies in a span of 5:12 to take a 7-3 lead with 3:27 remaining in the opening half.
Gray found Pfeiffer for a nifty goal with just 25 seconds left in the quarter to slice the deficit to 7-4 as the Storm went into halftime trailing by just three goals. Saltrelli did his part, making 12 saves, including several point-blank stops to keep the Storm in the contest.
The Red Dragons came out fired up to start the second half, won the first three faceoffs and scored two goals to take a 9-4 lead less than two minutes into the third.
The Storm did not go away quietly. After a penalty was called on the Red Dragons, Beebe fed Pfeiffer, who ripped a shot high to slice the deficit to 9-5 with a man-up goal with 10:37 left in the third.
Just 14 seconds later, the Green and Gold made it a three-goal game when Beebe once again found Pfeiffer for another man-up goal to slice the deficit to 9-6.
But the Red Dragons showed why they have advanced to the national championship game five times since the 2006 season. Cortland scored the final 11 goals to pull away for the win.
"I'm very proud, we fought hard for 60 minutes," said head coach Jason Paige, who has compiled a 123-76 mark (.618 winning percentage) in his 16 years leading the Storm.
"We had some tough moments and we sort of struggled some in the second half and didn't have enough possessions. But overall, it was a privilege to be in the NCAA tournament. It's always an honor to play a team and a program like Cortland. We did our best, and hopefully we will use this as a building block. It was a good experience for all of our student-athletes to play in a game of this magnitude at this level. They saw the intensity required to be successful."
The loss caps a productive four-year run for the Storm's 12 seniors, who compiled a 47-11 record with four straight NEAC postseason titles during their time in Keuka Park.
"The year before my seniors arrived, we were 5-9," Paige said of his senior class. "We've been successful for the last four years and they helped us reach another level and got us back on track. I thank them for that and I am going to miss them."
"We definitely need to continue building this program," Latimer added. "I think we took a step in the right direction this year and coach Paige did an excellent job recruiting. We got some key kids into the program and a bunch of them started for us, too. Hopefully he can do the same thing next year and we can keep this going."