(Photo: Liesl Babicka/WCSN)
A Joe Balestrieri hat trick led the No. 3 Grand Canyon University Antelopes to a crucial 9-7 conference victory over No. 8 Arizona State University’s men’s club lacrosse team in front of a boisterous crowd at GCU Stadium.
In a physical meeting between two in-state rivals, the Antelopes limited ASU to their fourth lowest goal total on the season, and found just enough offense of their own to squeak out the two goal win.
“I was hoping our defense would be physical. Our defense needs a little more physicality, especially against their offensive guys,” ASU head coach Todd MacRobbie said after the game. “These guys know that division games are the ones that matter.”
The Sun Devils got off to a bright start in front of a crowd of over 4,000 people, scoring the game’s first two goals. Junior midfielder Tommy Carasco opened the scoring with a shot from the slot, before freshman midfielder Brandon Rogers’ precision pass found sophomore attackman Jake Marthens wide open to double the Sun Devil lead.
The rest of the first half was dominated by the Antelopes however, who reeled of six unanswered goals to take control of the game. Sophomore attackman Austin Ekeroth got GCU on the board, while Senior attackman Joe Balestrieri tied the score at 2-2 late in the first quarter.
After a missed man up opportunity for the Sun Devils early in the second quarter, GCU went back on the offensive. Freshman midfielder Cooper Snowbarger’s goals gave the hosts their first lead of the night. Sophomore attackmen Cody Clark and Cam Wengreniuk extended GCU’s lead to 5-2 before the end of the opening thirty minutes.
“I think the offensive started off well, but I think the offense was like, ‘hey, we can take it easy,’” MacRobbie said. “You can’t take it easy until the final whistle is done. I think we saw that when they went on that 5-0 run, and it’s always hard to come back when you get down that many.”
The Sun Devils offense came back to life in the third quarter, as Marthens scored his second and third goals to offset GCU goals from Balestrieri and Wengreniuk, keeping ASU within three goals.
Marthens then turned distributor late in third, setting up a Ryan Bradway goal with a back-post pass. The junior midfielder’s strike cut the GCU lead to just 7-5 going into the final frame.
“I think we have to play within ourselves, I think we got caught up in the moment,” Marthens said. “It showed late in the game how we know how to play and we can put the ball in the back of the net.”
An early fourth quarter extra-man goal from Balestrieri, his third of the night, gave GCU their three goal lead again, and plenty of breathing room to complete the victory.
ASU made a late comeback push, getting goals from Carasco and sophomore attackman Patrick Haviland with less than three minutes to play in the game. However, an Antelopes defense led by junior goalie Alex Larson held on the give GCU the rivalry win.
The Antelopes move into first place of the Southwest Lacrosse Conference South Division with the win. The winner of the division gets a bye to the semifinals of the conference tournament, while the second and third place finishers will be forced to play in the tournament’s opening round.
The winner of the SLC will earn an automatic bid into the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Championships.
The Sun Devils will face the Arizona Wildcats in their final regular season game, before heading into the SLC tournament.