PRINCETON, N.J. – With two of the best defensive lacrosse teams in the nation on the field at the Class of ’52 Stadium in Princeton, N.J., this Saturday, there was no question that a low-scoring, grinding defensive battle would be the result. The only thing in doubt was whether No. 5 Cornell or No. 6 Princeton would claim the victory – a question that Cornell junior David Mitchell answered by scoring the game-winning goal with 4:02 left in the contest to earn the Red a 4-3 victory over the Tigers.
“Any time you play against a team like Princeton you expect to have a team like Princeton you expect to have a low-scoring game,” said Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni. “[Princeton head] coach [Bill] Tierney is a master if he has a week to prepare for a defense. He did a wonderful job as I knew he would today.”
“We knew we were going to be in for a defensive battle,” said junior defender Mitch Belisle. “We know how great our goalie is and we knew that they have a great goalie too, so I think both goaltenders stood on their head and everyone played great defense so it was an exciting game.”
Mitchell finished with a pair of goals for the Red (9-2, 4-1 Ivy). Senior Derek Haswell provided the other half of Cornell’s scoring total, as well as the game-winning assist. Junior Eric Pittard added a pair of helpers on the day.
A trio of Tigers split the scoring load, as freshman Mark Kovler, sophomore Alex Haynie and senior Jim O’Brien each found the back of the net. Kovler and junior Scott Sowanick also handed out an assist each.
Princeton netminder Alex Hewit stole the spotlight repeatedly, making a number of tremendous saves to keep the Tigers (7-4, 3-1) in the hunt for a win. Hewit, who leads the nation with a .646 save percentage, ended the day with 15 saves on a total of 32 Cornell shots.
“Alex is phenomenal,” Tierney said. “He does this every day in practice, so as crazy as it sounds, it’s almost commonplace to see him do these things. He was great today, kept us in there when things got crazy.”
The Red defense limited Princeton’s scoring chances, allowing just 13 shots. Junior goaltender Matt McMonagle made five saves to earn the win.
“Our defense deserves all the credit in the world and I give it to them, no questions about it. We’ve got a lot of work to do on the offensive end,” Haswell said.
The two squads split the advantage in the face-off circle, as Alex Berg won 5-of-11 at the “X” and freshman Tommy Schmicker went 6-for-9 in the circle for the Red. Cornell was a perfect 16-of-16 in its clear attempts, and harassed Princeton into just 14-of-22 clear attempt completions.
As further proof of the two teams’ defensive prowess, both the Red and the Tigers were able to silence the most dependable threats on the opposing squad. Princeton’s leading scorer, junior Alex Trombino, was held pointless in a game for the first time in his collegiate career. However, the Tigers responded by keeping senior co-captain Joe Boulukos without a single point for the first time in 19 games.
“[Cornell is] a great team, they have a great defense and a great goalie,” Hewit said. “We knew it was going to be a four-quarter fight. We knew it was going to be a game the entire time.”
The two teams battled from the opening face-off, with neither squad able to get off many shots in the early minutes. However, the third shot was the charm for Cornell, as Haswell opened the scoring with 6:19 remaining in the first quarter. Pittard provided the assist, passing from behind the goal to Haswell, who one-timed the ball from the left side of the face to beat Hewit.
Cornell could not create a quality scoring opportunity in the closing minutes of the first frame, but quickly doubled its lead in the second quarter. Schmicker won the opening face-off, and the ball found its way to Boulukos, who ripped a shot at the Princeton net. However, Haswell lent a hand to the Tigers, as his teammate’s shot caught him in the back of the leg just outside the crease. As Haswell fell to the ground, Mitchell scooped up the rebound and delivered a shot over a kneeling Haswell to make the score 2-0 with 44 seconds gone in the second quarter.
Princeton responded with a flurry of shots, tallying one-third of their attempts on goal in the next five minutes, including one shot that ricocheted off the goalpost. The Red held the Tigers without a shot for the remainder of the quarter, taking its 2-0 advantage into halftime.
“We have a billion plays, but they’re not worth anything if you can’t beat your individual defenders,” Tierney said. “So we told them at halftime, beat your man and go in and score.”
The Tigers took those words to heart, claiming possession on the first face-off of the second half and working the ball to Kovler, who found O’Brien close to the right side of the net. O’Brien then delivered a high, soft lob that evaded McMonagle to cut the difference on the scoreboard to one.
Cornell’s next scoring chance came when Boulukos gathered the ball off a failed Princeton clear and found Pittard just off the right side of the crease. However, Hewit wasn’t fooled and made a save on Pittard’s quick turn-and-shoot move. The same scenario would play out again in the third quarter, as Pittard failed to beat Hewit from close range twice more in the closing minutes of the stanza. Princeton was also unable to convert on its best scoring chance of the quarter, as the Tigers were shut out during an extra-man advantage after junior Ethan Vedder was called for a 30-second holding penalty at the 7:55 mark.
Another extra-man opportunity went unrealized for the Tigers after sophomore Danny Nathan was handed a one-minute penalty for an illegal body check at 14:42 of the fourth quarter. But Princeton managed to penetrate a full-strength Cornell defense just over three minutes later, as Kovler beat a defender on the right side of cage and delivered a low shot that beat McMonagle as he sunk into a half-split.
The Tigers took the lead with just over 10 minutes remaining, as Haynie collected a pass from Sowanick and barreled head-on through the Cornell defense, delivering a scoring shot before landing on his belly in the crease.
Haswell responded for the Red at the 7:30 mark, collecting a pass from Pittard and delivering a low, shovel-like shot to tie the game.
“But I give the defense the credit today, they really held us in that game and allowed us to be in it when we needed to be in it, which was at the end,” Tambroni said.
The Red continued the rally, getting a save from McMonagle and ground balls from senior Dave Bush and Pittard in the next two mintues. The offense set up following Pittard’s ground ball, eventually working around to Haswell on the back left side of the goal, who then found Mitchell in front of the crease for the game-winner.
“[Mitchell] did a great job of finding a seam, and I managed to find such a big target and he did a great job of putting it away,” Haswell said.
Schmicker won the ensuing face-off, and the Red controlled play over the closing minutes. Junior Zachary Jungers took a one-minute slashing penalty with 42 seconds remaining when he hit a Cornell player so hard the head of his stick fell off, and Cornell closed out the win.
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Sports Editor