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Lacrosse: Little nets nine as resurgent Mids top Lehigh

Alison Althouse - TheMidReport.com

A black magic marker played a role in Navy’s 14-9 victory over Lehigh in men’s lacrosse before 2,597 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Twice the game was interrupted briefly so Navy officials could retrieve a game ball to commemorate a milestone. The first came in the opening minute, soon after senior Brady Dove grabbed his 300th career groundball.

The second time came late in the third quarter. In that instance, junior Dave Little had just scored his ninth goal of the day. The immediate effect was that he had given Navy a 12-8 lead that wasn’t threatened.

The long-term effect was that it broke a school record for most goals in a game that had stood since 1943. Little accomplished the feat on only nine shots.

Navy officials wrote on the game balls with a magic marker to keep them separate. On a day of two special milestones, the magic marker very much came in handy.

“He’s getting healthy,” Navy Coach Rick Sowell said of Little. “He hasn’t been 100 percent until this week. If you had seen him shoot on Thursday [in practice] you probably wouldn’t be surprised by how he shot today. Our jaws were dropped on Thursday.”

Little was effective for several reasons. The main one was that Lehigh (4-4, 2-3 Patriot League) employs a zone defense. Such schemes take away shots from the middle of the field but can be susceptible to players moving off-ball and finding little pockets of space for a quick shot.

And Little excels at finding such space and taking such shots. The Midshipmen were successful because they were willing and able to make the extra pass; they forsook a good shot for themselves to pass to an open teammate for a better one.

And when the pass went to Little, he delivered.

It was a theme throughout the day: Navy (4-6, 2-3) finished with an assist on each of its first 12 goals.

“Sometimes you just get the shots you’re hoping for,” Little said. “I’ve had a hard time getting my hands free this year. Today was one of those days where [the defense] didn’t press out that far. … My teammates were the ones putting me in the positions. I didn’t do anything myself.”

Little learned his trade as a quick-shot specialist in his post-graduate year at the Hill Academy in Ontario in 2012-13, which he attended following his years at Woodberry Forest School in Orange, Va. Hill tends to have players from Canada, who are creative shooters from close to the goal and need little time or space to take a shot. Little clearly learned his trade from some of the best in the game.

Little went from Hill to the Naval Academy Prep School before arriving in Annapolis.

His previous career high for goals at Navy was four, set his freshman year in 2015. He had eclipsed that mark on Saturday with 6 minutes 23 seconds left in the first half.

While Little’s performance was a surprise, Brady Dove’s was not. He simply added to his haul of school records on Saturday.

Dove finished tying a school record with 21 face-off wins and set a single-game school record with 17 groundballs. He is the first player in Navy history with 300 groundballs, which occasioned the brief stoppage of play in the opening minute.

Dove’s performance was particularly opportune given that it came against Lehigh freshman Conor Gaffney, who entered ranked in the top 10 in the nation with a 63.3 percent winning percentage.

“We’re not used to losing that many face-offs,” Lehigh Coach Kevin Cassese said. “[Dove] was a man possessed today. We tried everything we could to throw him off, including a stick check. And that didn’t throw him off at all.”

Incredibly, there were other performances worth noting. Navy sophomore Greyson Torain finished with one goal and five assists. He was able to get into the middle of the zone, draw defenders and then pass to open teammates for shots.

It clinched a pretty good week for Torain. In an 11-6 win over Dartmouth on Tuesday, Torain had three goals and four assists. For the week he had four goals and nine assists.

Navy also welcomed back junior Jack Ray to the lineup. Ray, a three-year starting attackman, had missed seven games with a foot injury suffered in a loss to Maryland. Ray didn’t score – his only shot hit the crossbar in the opening minute. But his return is good news for an offense that had become overly reliant on Torain and classmate Ryan Wade.

Junior Ray Wardell, one of Navy’s best outside shooters, moved into the first midfield line from the second unit and scored three goals. He earned the promotion because the coaches thought his outside shooting would be effective against the zone defense.

Lehigh started seven sophomores; they include the best offensive player (Tristan Rai, with three goals and two assists) and defensive player (Craig Chick, with five groundballs, four caused turnovers, two assists and two face-off wins).

The Mountain Hawks will be very tough in the coming years.

But on Saturday, the day belonged to Dove and mostly to Little.

“The way we were playing, we were going to try to force some other guys to step up,” Cassese said of Little. “He was one of the guys we were going to force to step up. And he did.”