Charlie Paar deflected a point-blank shot, scooped it out of the air and then ran off, far from the shadow of his goal. His teammates gave chase. And for good reason. Paar’s save was the final masterstroke in a landmark victory for the Stony Brook University men’s lacrosse program.
The Seawolves, appearing in just their second-ever NCAA Tournament game, held the visiting Denver Pioneers to just two second-half goals to earn a 9-7 win before a record crowd of 4,262 Saturday at LaValle Stadium.
“The whole team is excited,’’ said Paar, a former Huntington High School standout who recorded five of his nine saves in the fourth quarter. “We don’t know what’s coming next. But we want to keep playing. Every game is something new. It’s uncharted territory.”
Stony Brook (13-3) ran its winning streak to nine in a row and advances to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The Seawolves host No. 1 Virginia on Sunday, May 23 at 2:30 p.m.
Virginia comes in a big favorite. The Cavaliers were an 18-4 winner over Mount St. Mary’s in the first round and beat the Seawolves, 13-8, in February. Then again, Denver also beat Stony Brook earlier this season and look what happened?
“It’s huge for us as a program,” said former Hauppauge standout Tom Compitello, a senior midfielder. “You come here with high expectations of winning the America East championship, which we got to do this year. And you come here wanting to compete at the highest level. This is a dream come true. This is why you come to Stony Brook.”
Stony Brook has a surprising edge against Virginia. The school was selected before the season to host two NCAA quarterfinal games. Who knew the Seawolves would get a chance to play on the big stage too? Certainly not fourth-year coach Rick Sowell.
“At the beginning of the year, we knew the quarterfinals would be here,’’ Sowell said. “And there was some talk about maybe Stony Brook [might be in the NCAA Tournament], which I couldn’t relate to. For a program that just went to one Tournament, to think that we would get into the Tournament, win and be sitting here as one of the final eight teams – that was just too far off for me to really comprehend. When the whistle went off and we won, I couldn’t believe we did what we did.”
It was a shockingly superb performance, highlighted by the early play of Compitello (three goals) and a fourth-quarter flurry by junior midfielder Kevin Crowley, who was recently named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award as the national lacrosse player of the year.
With his back to the Denver goal and a flag down, Crowley flicked an over-the-shoulder ball from 10 yards out on the left side. It caught everyone flat-footed and put Stony Brook ahead for good, 7-6, with 11:29 left. He added his third goal of the game to make it 9-7 with 3:37 remaining.
“They’ve got a gorilla and he’s tough to stop,” Denver coach Bill Tierney said. “He had three and they were all big, powerful goals.”
Tierney, a lacrosse legend who got his start coaching at Great Neck South and Levittown Memorial high schools before winning six NCAA championships at Princeton, was complimentary of the Seawolves, from the defense to the coaching.
That’s because Stony Brook played with discipline and fire. As much as Crowley stole the show with his playground goal, the Seawolves held the ball and controlled the tempo. They won 12 of 19 faceoffs and scored twice off them.
“There were times when I first got here I was thinking, ‘How the heck am I going to get this done?’” Sowell said. “Albany was a machine when I first got here. And then UMBC took over the baton. Next thing you know they are winning the league and playing well in the Tournament. We had a lot of work to do.”
Sowell recruited well, set modest goals and everything came together this spring. The team’s lone objective was to reach the America East championship game. Stony Brook not only got there, it won. Now it’s on to the Elite Eight.
The lacrosse program’s first NCAA Division I victory adds to what has been a watershed school year for the entire athletic program. Football finished tied atop the Big South Conference standings, men’s soccer won the America East Tournament and men’s basketball took the regular season title and qualified for the NIT.
“You’re a jock school,” Newsday’s John Jeansonne told Sowell in the post-game press conference.
“It’s becoming that way,” Sowell said and flashed a smile. “I’m just glad to join the party. The basketball team. The soccer team. The football team. This is so much fun. It’s great.”
“We got a good thing going here at Stony Brook,’’ Sowell added. “Get used to it. Because we’re not going away any time soon.”