Throughout the course of Saturday afternoon’s affair, a slight drizzle was creeping over the crescent at Schoellkopf, but never quite fully formed into a consistent precipitation.
That’s because the true downpour was occurring down on the turf, as the Cornell men’s lacrosse (4-7, 2-2 Ivy) offense ignited to down Lehigh (6-6, 3-4), 16-11, for a bounceback win after Tuesday’s collapse at Syracuse.
“Very excited to get one and they’re tough to come by this year,” said head coach Matt Kerwick. “The guys really put forth the effort that we wanted to see as a team.”
While a team effort, two individuals took center stage Saturday, as they do nearly every contest.
When freshman attack Connor Fletcher received a pass from sophomore Clarke Peterson to make it 11-8 Cornell, the goal gave the lethal freshman duo of Fletcher and Jeff Teat their 79th combined point of the year to make them the highest scoring first-year pair in program history by passing Rob Pannell ’12 and Roy Lang ’12. The two finished Saturday with 11 points on the day — eight from Teat, three from Fletcher — and 83 combined season points between them.
“If you work hard, good things are going to happen, and that’s what these two are doing a really good job with,” Kerwick said. “We are excited about where we are heading.”
Petterson’s assist on Fletcher’s record-setting goal helped make it a career day for the sophomore who was named 2015’s most valuable freshman on the team. It was one of four assists on the day for Petterson, who added two goals in the contest as well.
“We were just trying to share the ball on offense,” Petterson said. “I was just fortunate enough to be in the right spot at the right time. It was team offense and I was beneficiary at the end.”
It was not all comfort for the Red, however. Lehigh came out shooting, and took the first two goals of the game and a 4-3 lead into first break. As a zone defense team, a system Kerwick says Cornell has not seen as much, Lehigh held the Cornell offense rather quiet in the first quarter.
Later on, once Cornell eventually got itself up to a 15-8 lead with seven straight unanswered goals, the Mountain Hawks utilized three unanswered of their own to make what seemed like a sure win a little bit more tense. Lehigh added 18 shots in the final quarter.
“We only had two days to get ready for their zone, so the comfort level for the offense took a little time to get there,” Kerwick said.
But Kerwick’s squad had senior goalie Christian Knight in the cage, who, after a rocky start to begin the year, has come into his own in the recent slew of games. He made 17 saves Saturday, with his best play coming during Cornell’s worst stretch.
“The one individual who I thought was incredible was Knight,” Kerwick said. “He played the game of the season for him. He was really poised, he was seeing everything. When we got a little bit sporadic in the fourth quarter there a bit he bailed us out. He’s as good as it gets in the cage.”
Before the scare in the final quarter, Cornell played some of its most crisp lacrosse of the season. From around the midway points of the third to fourth quarters, the Red held Lehigh without any goals and true offensive pressure. On the other end of the field, Cornell ran up the score with seven of its own.
“We settled in on both sides of the ball and became more comfortable with what we are doing and executed a little bit better,” Kerwick said.
Despite all the accolades and career days that might have come with the win, Kerwick and his team know there are still plenty of holes left to fill heading into the final, crucial stretch of Ivy play.
Cornell managed a mere six faceoff wins Saturday in 30 total draws, not winning a single one in the first quarter. It resulted in senior attack Ryan Matthews taking his first stab at the faceoff dot since his freshman season, when he played as a reserve faceoff specialist for Johns Hopkins. Freshman defenseman Brandon Salvatore — who notched his first career point on a long strike Saturday — also saw some action in the faceoff circle.
“We need to change our approach because we are struggling at the faceoff X right now,” Kerwick said. “We have to keep working at that obviously.”
But Kerwick has also preached in the past about fixing the problems with ground balls and those 50-50 chances. On Saturday, Cornell nearly doubled Lehigh on ground balls, 32-19.
With just two games left in the season, and with only four teams making it into the Ivy tournament, Cornell sits at .500 within the league and still a fighting chance at making the postseason tournament, sitting in a tie with Brown for third.
“The goal is to be 4-2 in the Ivy right now,” Keriwck said. “We’re playing for our lives right now and we hold our own destiny, so we’re pretty excited about that.”