The United States is one game away from a gold medal. A familiar foe stands in its way.
The U.S. overcame a shaky start and did not allow an even-strength goal, grinding out a 10-2 victory over the Haudenosaunee in the World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship semifinals Thursday at the University of Limerick in Ireland.
The U.S. improved to 53-2 all-time in junior (previously U19) championship play and will look to capture its ninth gold medal Saturday. And for the eighth time, its opponent will be Canada, which blasted Australia 19-1 to advance to its sixth straight final.
“We’ve got to take care of our bodies, hydrate, go over a few things in film and I think we’ll be ready,” said attackman Brennan O’Neill, who led the U.S. with three goals and an assist. “We’ve been training for this for a long time. It’s very exciting that we get to be in this game.”
Alec Stathakis (8-for-11) and Jake Naso (4-for-4) combined to win 12 of 15 faceoffs for the U.S., which has devoured possessions throughout the tournament with 82.4-percent efficiency (98-for-119) despite missing Naso for most of the games due to an injury. He returned to the lineup Thursday, as did defenseman Michael Alexander and attackman Pat Kavanagh (two assists).
Deadlocked at one for most of the first quarter, the U.S. struck for two goals in the last 79 seconds. CJ Kirst factored in both goals, assisting O’Neill and then converting a feed from his brother, Cole Kirst, with 1.9 seconds left to make it 3-1.
The lead was 7-1 at halftime. Long-stick midfielder Jackson Bonitz batted in a rebound in front to highlight a four-goal second quarter.
The U.S. managed just three more goals the rest of the way due to the hot hand of Haudenosaunee goalie Jack VanValkenburgh, who made 12 saves. Liam Entenmann (eight saves) was just as good for the U.S., which outshot the Haudenosaunee 36-21.
Gregory Elijah-Brown scored the lone two goals for the Haudenosaunee, both of which came on man-up possessions. The U.S. held the Haudenosaunee scoreless for more than 42 minutes and has allowed just 17 goals in six games (2.83 goals per game).
Saturday’s final will air live on ESPNU. Opening faceoff is 7 p.m. local time (2 p.m. Eastern).