Thursday, August 11, 2022

Ward’s game-winner helps Hens shock No. 2 Georgetown, move forward in NCAA tournament

SportsMen's LacrosseWard’s game-winner helps Hens shock No. 2 Georgetown, move forward in NCAA tournament
Courtesy of Mark Campbell/Delaware Athletics
JP Ward (above) was the hero Sunday night for the Blue Hens, as his goal with eight seconds left completed a comeback and clinched an NCAA tournament victory over No. 2 Georgetown.

BY
Managing Sports Editor

As the clock neared zero Sunday night in Washington, D.C., the Delaware men’s lacrosse team would have been happy to head into overtime knotted up at 9-9, right after scoring two consecutive goals to erase a deficit versus No. 2 Georgetown in the NCAA tournament’s first round.

But the Blue Hens ended up even happier, when sophomore JP Ward rifled a shot past Hoyas goalkeeper Owen McElroy with eight seconds remaining in regulation, putting Delaware ahead 10-9, the eventual final tally. 

Ward’s score, off an assist from junior Drew Lenkaitis, who was tightly defended on the play, ended up being the difference-maker. Right after the final face-off, all-conference defenseman Owen Grant handled the game-clinching ground ball, and the Hens’ bench stormed Cooper Field in jubilation.

“I would like to emphasize the leadership of our captains and senior class – the belief in each other and our process,” head coach Ben DeLuca said in a press release. “Blue Hen nation showed up in force and they were a big part of the energy that we fed on throughout the game, particularly at the end.”

A fourth-quarter goal by Lenkaitis brought Delaware within one, and senior Tye Kurtz did his part just one minute later at the 2:13 mark to tie the game, marking the first time Georgetown did not hold a lead in the second half.

The underdogs started off the game well after an hour lightning delay, running out to a 3-0 lead, before squandering two late first-quarter goals and only holding a 4-3 advantage.

The Hoyas got another two in the second quarter, before the teams traded goals heading into halftime, with Georgetown up 6-5.

Ward, Lenkaitis and junior attacker Mike Robinson all notched two goals to lead the Blue Hens. Robinson’s second score, in the fourth quarter, was a behind-the-back beauty off a feed from senior Clay Miller.

Miller, Kurtz and midfielders Mark Bieda and Nick Jessen all contributed one goal to help the Delaware offense overcome a Georgetown defense that ranked first nationally in goals conceded per game (8.06 entering Sunday). 

Meanwhile, in goal for the Hens was redshirt senior Matt Kilkeary, who made 14 saves for an impressive save percentage over 60%. Kilkeary and the Delaware defense limited the nation’s leading scorer (3.62 goals per game entering Sunday), senior Dylan Watson, to zero goals and just five total shots.

After sharing time with freshman Paul Reidy earlier in the season, Kilkeary has found his groove in a return to the full starting role. Along with Sunday night, Kilkeary has been the go-to guy in net through Delaware’s final three regular season games, their two CAA tournament contests and last week’s opening round NCAA tournament victory over Robert Morris.

“He’s been on a heck of a run,” DeLuca said. “He saw the ball really well, he made some difficult saves against some really good shooters. I think that allowed him to have some confidence in our defense as well.”

Kilkeary’s transformation over the season has nearly mirrored the improvements made in the face-off category for the Blue Hens.

Courtesy of Mark Campbell/Delaware Athletics
Matt Kilkeary (above) prepares for a save attempt after a Georgetown shot in Sunday night’s game.

Despite losing the face-off battle 14-9 against the Hoyas, sophomore Logan Premtaj secured two late triumphs at the midfield logo to help Delaware tie the game. In the 20-8 win versus Robert Morris, Premtaj helped his team to a 20-12 face-off advantage.

“I give a ton of credit to coach [Trey] Wilkes and coach [Matt] Rewkowski for managing the adjustments,” DeLuca said after the CAA Championship.

The next test for the upset-minded Blue Hens will come in the NCAA quarterfinals against No. 7 Cornell. Earlier Sunday, Cornell took down Ohio State 15-8 to advance. 

DeLuca has a deep history with the Big Red, having played there from 1995 to 1998 and serving as a team captain. From 2011 to 2013, DeLuca was Cornell’s head coach, leading them to a national semifinals trip in 2013.

He will look to do the same with the Blue Hens this Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. A win would clinch Delaware’s first trip to the semifinals since 2007, a year in which they also took down a No. 2 seed in Virginia.

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