University Park, Pa. - Playing on the road at No. 1 Penn State, the Cleveland State University lacrosse team put forth one of its top performances of its inaugural season, as the Nittany Lions were forced to work for a 15-8 win Saturday afternoon at an overcast Penn State Lacrosse Field.
Penn State moved to 9-0 with the win while the Vikings played on the road against the top-ranked team in the country for the second time in a one-month span.
"Overall, I honestly think that our guys played one of their best games beginning to end," head coach Dylan Sheridan said. "Certainly we had our moments where we had our freshman mistakes, but really proud of just the kind of grit the kids displayed. We went down a couple goals early and then really went toe to toe with the No. 1 team in the country for the rest of the game, except that the third quarter got away from us a little bit."
Caleb Espinoza posted his sixth straight double-digit save performance, as he racked up a game-high 17 saves. Espinoza and his defensive counterparts held Penn State below their season average in goals and held the Lions to their second-lowest mark of the season in shooting percentage, a category in which Penn State entered as the top team in Division I.
Cleveland State had a balanced offensive effort that saw four Vikings post multi-point efforts and three contribute multi-goal outings. Chase Baker, Jack Frickleton and Noah Gleeson each netted a pair of goals Saturday while Nick Wendel contributed a goal and an assist.
Cleveland State outshot host Penn State in the first half but would enter intermission trailing by three goals.
The Nittany Lions scored the opening three goals of the game, all coming in unsettled situations, to jump out to an early lead.
After a timeout, the Vikings found their footing in the game and played the Lions even for the remainder of the half.
Frickleton got CSU on the board with a low strike immediately after receiving a behind-the-net feed from Tristen Copeland. After a Chase Baker goal cut the lead to two, Penn State pushed the lead back to three with the first goal of the second quarter.
Copeland then appeared to pull the Vikings back within two, but one official overruled his counterpart to call a crease violation. Each team scored twice over the final eight minutes of the half with Stephen Masi and Gleeson finding the twine for the Vikings.
Espinoza made three saves on Penn State's opening possession of the second half that was about 2:30 in length. On CSU's ensuing possession, Wendel drew a double team and found an open Baker, who fired into the low right corner.
Penn State would score the next four goals of the game over the remainder of the period, as its second-ranked faceoff unit began to heavily impact the proceedings.
The fourth quarter was relatively even, but that was not enough for the guests to pull off a comeback. Frickleton, Gleeson and Wendel scored for CSU in the fourth, the last of which was assisted by Jake Lewis.
"To put that kind of effort out against the No. 1 team in the country at their place and really just kind of match their intensity and, also from our standpoint, match the skill level for the first time—it was good to see," Sheridan said. "I think our skills were really on display today. I was really proud. And certainly Caleb Espinoza in the goal is just a special talent, so I'm proud of him and proud of our whole defense for really doing a good job against, I think, one of the best offensive teams in the country."
Having to play with a short bench, Cleveland State was able to dress only 28 student-athletes Saturday, 27 freshmen and one junior.
After entering with one goal on the season, Baker scored twice after earning his first start of the season. It was his first multi-point effort of 2017.
Frickleton posted his sixth multi-point game and third multi-goal outing. Wendel extended his goal streak to four games with his fourth multi-point performance while Gleeson tallied his fourth multi-goal effort of the campaign.
Zach Whitenack had a team-high five ground balls for CSU while each team committed 12 turnovers.
Cleveland State will have next weekend off before finishing its road trip April 4 with a midweek matchup at nationally ranked Virginia.