May 31, 2007

M. Laxers Downed by Duke in National Semifinal

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The highest of highs to the lowest of lows – all in the span of about 30 seconds. The men’s lacrosse players found themselves in the middle of a raucous celebration after senior Brian Clayton netted the game-tying goal with 17 seconds left in regulation to bring the Red back from a seven-goal deficit to Duke. A mere 14 seconds later, however, players found themselves wandering the field aimlessly with stunned expressions after Duke’s Zack Greer broke the 11-11 tie with his fourth goal, sending Duke to its second championship in three seasons.
“I was proud to walk off the field with [my team],” said head coach Jeff Tambroni. “Regardless of the result, this group has battled adversity all year and today was no different. … To their credit, they never lost faith in each other. They believed in each other.”
While Clayton scored his three goals from shots 10-to-15 yards out, senior David Mitchell paced the Red’s offense with four goals, playing the role of the invert all afternoon, catching and finishing amongst a gaggle of defenders. Two of Mitchell’s goals were assisted by classmate Eric Pittard who quarterbacked from behind the cage and finished with a game-high four helpers.
For a long time, though, it looked the Red wasn’t even going to score four goals, let alone have one player score four and another assist four. In fact, it looked like Cornell might not get anything going when right out of the gates sophomore midfielder Max Seibald was decked after clearing the ball down the sideline. The illegal body check by Duke’s Casey Carroll gave the Red a two-minute man-up advantage but knocked Seibald out of the game for a brief period, only to return to play a decreased role in the Red’s all-around offense. He finished with one assist and five shots without a goal.
Still, the defense stymied the Duke attack while Cornell took a 3-2 lead at the 1:25 mark in the first quarter. It was the last time the Red would score until the 1:11 mark of the third period – a span of nearly 30 minutes of game play.
The Red did not cease its barrage of shots – in fact, unlike the first quarter, the Red offense outshot the Blue Devils 14-10 in the second period – but Duke goalie Dan Loftus did step up his game with six saves in that second stanza, giving him 11 for the half. Pittard pointed out after the game that the Red’s offense’s struggles resulted from a lack of movement and low confidence on shots. Indeed, many of the Red’s shots were early in possessions and flew wide of the cage.
The Red defense held firm, though. As it has done all year, it kept the opposing team’s big guns silent. The Blue Devil’s matched Cornell’s offensive impotency, going over 16 minutes without a goal.
Then the flood gates burst. The last five minutes of the second quarter saw four Duke goals find the back of the net – including three in the last 76 seconds. With the Red down 7-3 at intermission – the biggest hole of the season – Tambroni knew things needed to change.
“Our coaching staff met and said in order to do this, it is going to take a lot of energy,” he said. “If we keep plying the same guys over and over, we’re not going to have that energy in the second half. So, we used [junior] John Glynn exclusively on the face-off and implemented [junior] Mike Corbolotti, who didn’t see too much time during the regular season, and then used guys like [freshman] Max [Dorne] on the defensive end to give us room to create plays.”
Tambroni’s plan played off – eventually. Glynn was able to continue his stellar work at the face-off “X,” going 6-of-7 in the third period, and 10-of-15 in the second half overall – better than his first-half performance. But the Red offense simply could not find the back of the net. The Blue Devils slowly built their lead up to 10-3.
Then the gears on Tambroni’s plan began to churn. After a typical goal from Seibald to Mitchell ended the Red’s drought, Corbolotti ripped a shot past Loftus for only his second goal of the season before sophomore Chris Finn fed Mitchell to get the Red within four at 10-6.
The defense continued to feed the ball to the Red’s offense while the attacking squad stepped up its ride game, preventing a Duke clear on three occasions in the fourth after only stopping on all afternoon. Similarly, after making one save in both the second and third quarters, senior co-captain Matt McMonagle turned away five Blue Devil offerings in the last fifteen minutes.
“Our defense played very well for me this game,” McMonagle said. “In the third quarter, Duke had some great shooters, but I was able to make the saves we needed to make. I just wanted to get our offense the ball back and I was able to do that.”
And the offense was able to convert. When McMonagle thwarted two back-to-back Duke tries with just under ten minutes remaining, the offense got the ball and a rested second line of middies and attackers continued to convert. Sophomore Christian Patrick buried his fifth goal of the season to bring the Red within two at 11-9. Then, creating through sophomore Rocco Romero, Cornell got within one when he found senior Casey Lewis on the left wing wide open. Lewis began to charge the cage, but with no one covering him, he side armed the shot in to bring the score to 11-10 with just over six minutes to play.
Duke players admitted that it was hard to stay composed as a seven-goal lead dwindled to one in only 11 minutes of game play.
“It was tough, especially after what happened to the women’s team yesterday,” Greer said in regards to the Duke women’s lacrosse team allowing 10 unanswered goals in 20 minutes to Virginia in a 14-13 loss. “Cornell is a good team and we had to stick it out and fight it out. We had 41 guys working hard out there.”
Duke began to slow the pace down from there, eating off a few minutes on each possession. The Red was equally futile, with Loftus wrapping his pocket around a few Cornell shots. With under a minute, though, a Duke turnover gave the ball back to the Red. The team marched down the field and promptly turned the ball over. Duke worked the ball out to Ed Douglas who streaked down the sideline to clear the ball. Cornell’s rode hard, though, and caught up with him, shoving him out of bounds. In a desperation attempt, Douglas tried to scoop the ball toward the midline where Siebald was waiting patiently.
After Seibald fed Clayton at the point, Clayton dodged toward the net quickly and released a shot at Loftus’ ankles. Loftus flailed his right foot at the ball to no avail.
“I was really thinking about overtime, to be honest,” Loftus said about his mind state after the tying goal.
Certainly thousands of the collegiate lacrosse record-setting crowd of 52,004 was too. Not the Duke offense, though. Glynn lost the ensuing face off, and the Blue Devils worked the ball down the field, looking to feed the ball to Greer. A Cornell defender was draped on Greer. He was not open. After the game Duke head coach John Danowski would say that they had nothing to loose so he told his guys to throw it in to Greer no matter what and trust him. The offense trusted him, and Greer followed through. He caught past, back to the goal, and then lost his defender on a spin move to his right. With little hesitation, he buried the game-winner from a few feet outside the crease, giving Duke the win. For Cornell, it was the first loss of the season in its first semifinal trip since 1988.
“It has been an amazing four years capped off with an amazing senior year,” said senior co-captain Mitch Belisle. “It was very exciting to not lose a game until today. It was frustrating to go out this way when we though we had such a great chance to advance, but at the same time, it was a special season.”