ANNAPOLIS —- Perhaps the most sobering day of Navy’s trying lacrosse season concluded Saturday with a forgettable result.
A third straight loss to Army, this one a 14-9 setback at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“I don’t think it’s ever happened,” coach Richie Meade said.
It had happened before, just not anytime recently. The skid —- the longest for Navy against its biggest rival since 1950-52 —- ensured the Midshipmen (4-8, 2-4) would miss the Patriot League tournament for the first time since joining the conference in 2004. Navy, which tied a school record for losses set in 1996 and matched in 2010, will close its season April 23 at Johns Hopkins.
Numbers beyond the rivalry were trivial concerns as the No. 18 Black Knights (8-4, 3-2) wrapped up their first victory in Annapolis since 1997. More to the point was Garrett Thul’s five-goal outburst and Jeremy Boltus’ four-goal, three-assist outing for Army.
Those performances from elite attackmen proved especially meaningful, far more than Navy’s advantages in shots (40-21), groundballs (37-22) and faceoffs (15-12).
“This is very difficult,” Meade said. “I take responsibility for the whole thing. We came out and played the game I thought we needed to play to be able to win. They overcame that.”
For nearly a half, Navy was in control. It maintained a 7-3 lead —- the exact margin it needed to win by to secure a place in the Patriot tournament through a series of tiebreakers —- until Army scored in the closing seconds of the first half.
The advantage didn’t last long. Army goalie Tom Palesky stuffed Navy’s Sam Jones on the first possession of the third quarter, and Black Knights midfielder Devin Lynch scored on the ensuing trip downfield. Army tacked on two transition goals to tie, then assumed the lead on a slick Thul goal off a Boltus feed.
Army picked on a sluggish Navy defense and goalie RJ Wickham, who made one save before he was yanked at the end of the third quarter. The Black Knights scored on 14 of their 21 shots.
“We just had to make a move,” Meade said. “I’m not prone to doing that. I’m not prone to pulling the goalie, but at that point, I think he’d made one save.”
One personnel change couldn’t fix things for Navy, which slid to four games under .500 for the first time since wrapping up the 1996 season at 4-8.
It left Navy’s seniors with four losses to Army, the most ever for a class of Mids. And it put to end Navy’s slim chances of making the NCAA tournament and playing into May.
“It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to move on,” defenseman Michael Hirsch said. “This was my last and the seniors’ last home game. That’s emotional for all our seniors. We have to accept that. Losing to Army in our stadium, it’s emotional. I know a lot of guys are upset about it. But we also have Johns Hopkins. We can beat them and prove we’re still a good team.”
As usual, Navy finds itself defined in large part by the closing four weeks of its regular season. The first of those games, a one-goal loss at Georgetown, was a reasonable continuation of a hard-luck year.
Saturday, along with a 10-4 home loss to Maryland on April 8, was quite different.
“It’s reality,” Meade said. “I think what we have to do is embrace reality. We are where we are. I think we have a good team. We’re obviously not good enough. We’ve lost a bunch of one-goal games. This is not a one-goal game. This is a game we had control of, and they took it away from us.”
—- Patrick Stevens