Megan Albrittain/The Villanovan
by Gregory Habeeb
The Villanova men’s lacrosse team improved to 4-0 in Big East conference play on Saturday afternoon as the Wildcats took down the St. John’s Red Storm, the No. 14 team in the nation by a score of 13-11.
The victory was ’Nova’s third straight, as the Wildcats continue to claw their way back from a 1-5 start.
The loss marked the second in a row for the Red Storm. It was the first time since the 2011 season that St. John’s (7-4, 2-3 Big East) had dropped consecutive games.
Villanova (5-6, 4-0 Big East) was able to take advantage of a Red Storm defense that was without its school’s all-time saves leader, senior goalkeeper Jeff Lowman.
Lowman is still dealing with concussion-like symptoms, which he sustained from a head injury during a game against Georgetown on April 6.
Freshman goalkeeper Harry Burke made his first career start in the net for the Storm.
Despite turning away half of the 26 shots on goal he faced he was unable to help St. John’s get the win.
The Wildcats’ strong attack was spearheaded by sophomore midfielder Eric Gartner.
Gartner tallied five points on the day, including a hat trick.
The Malvern, Pa., native was one of three Wildcats to find the back of the net three times, as senior midfielder Max Hart and freshman midfielder John Kluh poured in hat tricks of their own.
With 11:39 remaining in the first quarter, St. John struck first blood on junior attacker Kevin Cernuto’s 27th goal of the season.
The score capped off a dominant sequence where the Red Storm fired off four shots in the span of 30 seconds.
The ’Cats came roaring back with a four goal run headed by Hart, who ignited the ’Nova offense with two goals in a minute to give Villanova a 4-1 lead.
It would be a lead that ’Nova would refuse to relinquish.
St. John’s battled back, eventually tying the score at six with 7:11 to go in the second quarter thanks to Cernuto’s third goal of the game and scores from senior midfielder Alex Lagodich and junior midfielder Ryan Fitzgerald.
From there, momentum alternated between both sides.
Villanova re-established the lead with a two goal burst, thanks to scores by senior attacker Jack Rice and freshman attacker Tim Mulrenan.
That surge was answered by St. John’s, as Fitzgerald and junior attacker Colin Keegan, whose pair of goals occurred a mere two and a half minutes later.
It was not until late in the third quarter that Villanova, who had been keeping the Red Storm at arm’s length all day, earned some permanent breathing room, which they would not relinquish.
Hart scored his third and final goal of the game (and fifteenth of the season) with just over 20 minutes to go to give the Wildcats a 12-9 advantage, matching their largest lead of the game.
Trailing late, St. John’s looked to the nation’s leading point scorer, junior attacker Kieran McArdle, to lead a comeback effort.
McArdle, however, was locked up by junior defenseman Christopher Conroy, whose stellar defense held the Red Storm’s best offensive threat to a paltry two points, his lowest output this season and a full five points less than his 2013 per game average.
Junior midfielder John LoCascio of Fairfield, N.J., also pitched in defensively by scooping up eight ground balls.
Down the stretch, Villanova was able to keep their lead safe from any last-minute surges due to their ability to win face-offs.
Junior face-off specialist and midfielder Thomas Croonquist had multiple key face-off victories late in the contest.
Croonquist won his last eight attempts from the face-off line, allowing the Wildcats to maintain possession during the most crucial part of the game.
The North Caldwell, N.J., native ended up taking 17 of his 27 possible face-off attempts, a rate about seven percentage points higher than his season average of 56 percent.
Junior midfielder Kevin O’Neil scored the final goal for the Wildcats off an assist from Kluh with 9:42 remaining in the fourth quarter to give his team a 13-10 lead.
It was the Cockeysville, Md. native’s eleventh goal of the season.
A late score from Red Storm sophomore attacker Stefan Diachenko (off an assist from Cernuto) with 7:41 left in the game narrowed the gap to 13-11.
However, the last shot was too late.
Villanova also used aggressive play in order to secure the victory.
The Wildcats managed to outshoot the Red Storm 47-39, and won the ground ball battle handily 44-28.
Sophomore goalkeeper Reed Carlson and stopped six shots in the win.
Villanova lacrosse will hit the field again next Saturday, April 20, for a tilt with No. 4 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
The game, which will receive national television coverage on ESPNU, is scheduled for a start time of 2 p.m.