(Photo Courtesy of Penn State Athletics)
The Penn State Nittany Lions are heading to Championship Weekend for the first time since 2019 and second time in school history.
Penn State staved off a fierce Army comeback to take down the Black Knights 10-9 on Sunday afternoon to advance to the semifinals.
TJ Malone led the way for the Nittany Lions with four goals while Matt Traynor netted two. Jake Morin dished out three assists.
Jack Fracyon made 11 saves with a 55% save percentage to anchor the Penn State defense, which was without its top defender in Jack Posey for much of the game as he went down in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury and never returned.
It was that Nittany Lions defense, however, that came up as the difference in the end as they were able to hold off an Army squad that scored five of the final six goals.
Aided by a 9-for-11 (81%) mark from Will Coletti at the faceoff dot in the second half, Army came back from down 8-3 early in the third quarter and pulled within one (10-9) with just 3:41 remaining. The Black Knights, however, would not be able to tie it nor take hold of the lead in those final minutes.
Penn State forced a shot clock violation on the very next possession following Finn McCullough’s score to make it a one-goal game. Knox Dent made a save for Army on the other end the Black Knights proceeded to call a timeout following a successful clear.
Coming out of that timeout, Penn State nearly forced a turnover but Evan Plunkett would grab the ground ball to regain Army possession. However, a cross-check called on Penn State’s Sam Sweeney gave the Black Knights the full final 24 seconds with an extra man.
Penn State ended the day 2-for-2 on man-down situations as the Nittany shut down any opportunity the Black Knights had for a shot before the buzzer sounded. Jacob Morin did grab the loose ball for Army at the one second mark but his shot wasn’t released before the buzzer, thus sending Penn State to Philadelphia where they will face top-seeded Duke in the semifinals.
While it was the Penn State defense that helped hold down the lead late, it was a first-half offensive explosion that helped put the Nittany Lions in that position in the first place.
Down 2-0 early, TJ Malone dodged on AJ Piltae from behind the cage and got free for a score to get Penn State on the board. Malone’s first of the day helped to spark what was a six-goal run that lasted from the 7:44 mark of the first quarter through the 12:44 point of the second frame.
Malone put home the final of those consecutive scores to make it 6-2 and then added another on with less than a minute remaining in the first half to make it a 7-3 contest at the break. Malone’s fourth and final score of the day would come early in the third to pull Penn State out to its largest lead of the day at 8-3.
Chase Mullins struggled on the day as he went 9-for-23 (39%) overall. However, he had strong first half where he went 7-for-12 (58%). That included four consecutive wins to end the first quarter of play.
Army saw Gunnar Fellows net a hat trick while Jacob Morin had two goals. Bailey O’Connor had had three points off one goal and two assists.
Knox Dent made eight saves in cage with a 44% save percentage.