Nelson looks to seniors to lead men’s lacrosse through America East tournament

“Survive and advance.”

Repeated by head coach Scott Nelson and two of his senior captains, midfielder Michael Antinozzi and defender Greg Cove, the phrase seems to be a mantra for the 2014 Binghamton men’s lacrosse team.

After starting the season with a dismal 2-5 mark, the Bearcats (7-7, 4-1 America East) flipped their record for the second half of their schedule. They finished 5-2 in their last seven, picking up four conference wins along the way.

As the No. 2 seed in the America East tournament, BU is set to face No. 3 UMBC in the semifinals tonight at 5 p.m. at Stony Brook’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. The game will mark the first tournament appearance for the Bearcats since 2011 and the team’s highest tournament seeding since 2004, when they earned the No. 1 seed.

When the two programs met fewer than four weeks ago at the Bearcats Sports Complex, BU rallied in the second half to overwhelm the Retrievers (7-6, 3-2 AE), 9-1. But with a UMBC team that has combined for 31 goals in its last two contests, the Bearcats shouldn’t count on history to repeat itself.

“We’re going to have to play very, very hard to win [today]. We’re going to have to win the little battles,” said Nelson, who was named America East co-Coach of the Year on Wednesday. “It’s do or die time for our guys. We have 12 seniors. They want to keep playing, and we want to keep coaching them.”

With those 12 seniors being the only current players to have appeared in an AE tournament, the team will rely on their leadership and experience.

“A lot of us [seniors] played as freshmen,” Antinozzi said. “We’ve known how to win all four years … this year we put it all together.”

Antinozzi, along with Cove, will enter Thursday’s matchup aware of its cruciality.

“[If] we win, we continue going. [If] we lose, our season’s over,” Cove said. “Everybody’s going to be in check and know what’s on the line.”

Notes: In addition to Nelson, nine Bearcats were honored at the conference’s awards banquet on Wednesday. Senior defender Shawn Needham and senior midfielder Garrett Augustyn landed on the all-conference first team, while senior attack Matt Springer, senior midfielder Michael Antinozzi, senior defender Greg Cove and senior goalkeeper Max Schefler were named to the second team. Freshmen midfielders Tyler Deluca and Dan Mazurek made the all-rookie team, and Augustyn and senior midfielder Kelly Donigan earned all-academic honors.