LAGRANGE, Ga. – The Huntingdon men's lacrosse team turned in its second dominant performance in two days to win the inaugural USA South Athletic Conference championship on Sunday.
The Hawks defeated Methodist University 12-4 to complete the championship run.
"This is an incredible moment. Being the first Huntingdon team to win a conference championship, this is something we're always going to remember," Huntingdon junior and USA South Player of the Year Sam Hitt said. "We've worked so hard for this. It's just awesome to achieve what we've wanted for so long."
In the first season that the USA South sponsored men's lacrosse, Huntingdon (16-2) was 6-0 against conference opponents during the regular season. The Hawks defeated Greensboro 12-5 in the conference semifinals on Saturday.
"This is special. This has been a goal since I took the job and we started this program," Huntingdon head coach Andrew Carey said. "It means a lot to coach a group of guys who really put it all on the line for each other. This is a goal they've had, they knew it was attainable and now they've done it."
With Sunday's conference title, Huntingdon earns an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. The NCAA selection show will be in early May.
"This means a lot. We're still a young program, and like every team, we have our struggles. But we've all had faith in Coach Carey and here we are," Huntingdon senior Kendrick Ballard said. "To be able to go to the playoffs, I didn't know if that was something I would experience in college. Now that we're here, this is really special."
For the first quarter on Sunday, the game was even. Methodist took an early lead and led 2-1 at the start of the second quarter. But the final three quarters belonged to the Hawks. Huntingdon scored six straight goals to end the first half and start the second half and outscored Methodist 11-2 in the final 45 minutes of the game.
"We came out with a real chip on our shoulder this weekend," Carey said. "The games were a lot closer than they needed to be the first time and that was because we didn't execute like we needed to. This time, all of the chips were on the table, and we knew what was at stake."
Trailing 2-1 in the second quarter, Austen Saucier scored one goal and Ballard scored twice to close the first-half scoring. In the second half, Mile Stading scored two goals and Saucier scored one to make it a 7-2 game. Huntingdon built an eight-goal lead in the fourth quarter.
"This means everything to us right now," junior goalie Matt Murphy said. "All of us have wanted this and we've worked hard since the offseason. It feels great right now."
Murphy, who is among the Division III leaders in goals allowed average (6.42) and save percentage (58.8), was named Tournament MVP. He recorded nine saves in 13 shots on goal in the championship game. For the tournament, he had 21 saves and allowed just nine goals in the two games.
"Murphy really set the tone. If he doesn't come out and play as well as he did, these games would have been a lot closer," Carey said. "He felt like he had something to prove after the all-conference awards came out. He wasn't satisfied with being named second-team goalie. When he came out to practice after the awards came out, he had a different demeanor and it carried over to this weekend. He was going to do everything he possibly could to help us win."
Stading finished with three goals against Methodist, Zach Barnhill had two goals and two assists, Coates, Saucier and Ballard each had two goals and Adrian Harper had one goal and one assist. Coates had two caused turnovers and Barnhill recorded six ground balls.
Hitt was 13-for-20 on faceoffs and finished with nine ground balls. Hitt, who leads Division III in faceoff wins and is ranked in the top-10 for winning percentage, is 248-for-352 (70.5 percent) on faceoffs this season.
In addition to Murphy, Hitt, Barnhill, Coates, Ballard and Saucier were named to the All-Tournament team.
Records: Huntingdon (16-2); Methodist (6-9)
Coming Up: Huntingdon closes out the regular season at Rhodes on Tuesday at 6 p.m.