STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Senior day at Panzer Stadium was an emotional one for the nine seniors in Blue and White. Many of the fifth-year seniors were on the first-ever Penn State lacrosse team to reach the Final Four in 2019. The following year, the Nittany Lions had a real shot at a national title ripped away from them due to the pandemic. Then, two rough seasons saw the program post-back-to-back losing records. But this year, these seniors helped lead the program’s resurgence to national prominence. And most importantly, they ensured that Friday wouldn’t be their last game as Nittany Lions. With a 14-5 victory over Rutgers Friday night, Penn State won a share of the 2023 Big Ten Title and locked up an NCAA Tournament berth.
Lions strike early, fend of Rutgers surge
This week, coach Jeff Tambroni stressed the need for a quick start after a few slow starts in recent games. Kevin Winkoff provided that start for the Nittany Lions, giving them an early 1-0 lead. Mac Costin followed shortly after that, doubling the lead for Penn State. Penn State would play stifling defense on Rutgers, with goaltender Jack Fracyon making some great saves denying the Scarlet Knights from getting on the board. Penn State took advantage, with Mark Sickler and Jack Traynor adding quick goals to make the score 4-0 and force Rutgers to call a timeout.
Rutgers got a good shot out of the timeout but was denied again by Fracyon. A Jake Morin goal would make it 5-0 in favor of the Nittany Lions. Rutgers finally broke through in the quarter’s final seconds, but Penn State was happy to be on the right side of a 4-goal difference this time. Rutgers started with great urgency in the second quarter, and it showed. The Scarlet Knights scored three quick goals to narrow the lead to two. But Penn State stopped the bleeding with a Luke Mercer goal to get the lead back to three. With a two-man-up situation, Ethan Long found the back of the net to extend the Lions’ lead to 7-3. A relatively slow end to the half saw the teams head to the locker room with the score at 7-3.
Penn State wins 2023 Big Ten Title with late push
It looked as if the second half would be high-scoring when Penn State and Rutgers traded goals within the first three minutes of the half. But both teams entered a long scoring drought. Play became very sloppy as a rain shower passed through the area. With under a minute left in the third quarter, Ethan Long netted his second goal of the night. The score ended a drought that lasted nearly the entire quarter for Penn State and grew the lead to 9-4.
Shortly into the fourth quarter, Kevin Winkoff scored his second goal of the night to get the lead back to six. Seconds later, Mac Hobbs netted his first career goal to balloon to seven for the first time all night. After trading goals, Penn State got a man-up opportunity and added another goal to make the score 13-5.
Winkoff tacked on one more, earning him a hat trick and giving the Lions a nine-goal lead. Penn State called a timeout to ensure all the seniors had a chance to see the field one last time. The Lions were content to kill the clock and end the game with a final score of 14-5. Beyond winning a share of the Big Ten Regular Season Title, the victory over Rutgers means the Nittany Lions win the Friendship Cup, the name for the rivalry between the two schools.
Big Ten Tournament awaits
With a share of the 2023 Big Ten Title, Penn State will head to the conference tournament as either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, depending on the outcome of Saturday’s Maryland-Johns Hopkins game. If Johns Hopkins wins, Penn State will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Regardless, the Lions will have a bye in the tournament’s first round and will next play on Thursday, May 4th, in the Big Ten semifinals at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field.
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