- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - A nagging foot injury prevented Virginia attackman Steele Stanwick from playing the way he liked throughout the spring.

A two-week respite - and the need to spur the Cavaliers to a wild comeback - allowed him to craft the signature performance of his junior season in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Stanwick had eight points - including an assist on Matt White’s winner with 2:33 left in overtime - to permit Virginia to a 13-12 victory Sunday before 1,705 at Klockner Stadium.

Never mind the Cavaliers’ penchant for allowing the first midfield to take control from time to time. In the second half, it turned into Stanwick’s game.

“As the game went on, I just felt I needed to assert myself a little bit more, even when they were in there,” said Stanwick, who had a goal or an assist on six of Virginia’s last seven goals.

Chris Bocklet scored five goals for the seventh-seeded Cavaliers (10-5), who will meet second-seeded Cornell in Saturday’s quarterfinals at Hofstra. Both talent and good fortune played a role in getting them there.

Virginia erased a four-goal disadvantage in the final 17 minutes and a two-goal hole in the closing four minutes. And the Cavaliers did so despite enduring more than a 2-to-1 time of possession deficit in the second half.

“We’ve won a couple national championships, and we’ve been fortunate to do that,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “When you’re standing there on the field, that means an awful lot. But I would tell you I don’t remember that it felt a lot better than what winning that game felt like today.”

Bucknell (14-3) built a 10-6 lead in its first NCAA tournament game in a decade. The shrewd strategy to play keep-away from a Virginia outfit still trying to figure out how to cope with replacing midfielders Shamel Bratton (dismissed from the team last month) and Rhamel Bratton (suspension) confounded and flustered the Cavaliers.

Eventually, it was on Stanwick, the ACC’s player of the year, to gamble to save Virginia’s season at the risk of turning it over and handing transition opportunities to Bucknell.

“You know our defense is tired, so it’s a slippery slope,” Stanwick said. “You might make a play, but at the same time you need to give those guys a break. You just have to trust your instincts. We didn’t make the right play every time, but we made enough right ones to get back in the game and our defense bailed us out when we did screw up.”

Those weren’t the only risks Virginia assumed. Down 12-10 with less than four minutes left, the Cavaliers pulled goalie Adam Ghitelman out of the cage to create pressure on the Bison.

Once, a Bucknell shot skipped just wide of the cage. In another instance, a three-quarters field heave was wide but was ruled a pass and thus a Bison turnover - much to the chagrin of Bucknell coach Frank Fedorjaka, who said afterward it was a designed shot.

Stanwick took care of things late. He scored with 2:32 left to cut the Cavaliers’ deficit to a goal before finishing a transition opportunity to tie it with 1:46 to go.

Then came overtime, when Stanwick had the ball behind cage, only to find White off a screen for the winning goal.

Steele is the straw that stirs that drink for us offensively and sets the tone across the board,” Starsia said.

There were no signs of the hobbled, limited Stanwick on Sunday, just the steady star who helped the Cavaliers reach the final four the last two years. Now, he and Virginia are a victory away from returning there after a significant scare.

“There were a few times I started to doubt us a little bit,” Stanwick said, “But it just shows this team and what we’re all about.”

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