May 2, 2010

Don’t Ever Count ’Em Out

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As it turns out, the men’s lacrosse team is one big drama queen. After weeks of inconsistent play that would alternately thrill and chill fans, the No. 10 Red pulled off a sweet upset when it needed it most, defeating the No. 7 Princeton Tigers, 10-9, in New Jersey to earn a share of the Ivy title. This is Cornell’s eighth-straight title, the longest current streak of any men’s lacrosse program in any conference. The Red will also take the top seed at the inaugural Ivy League tournament.

The Red (9-4, 4-2 Ivy) took a six-goal lead into the fourth period against the home squad, but was almost stymied by a late counterattack by the Tigers (9-4, 4-2 Ivy).

“To their credit, Princeton didn’t give up until the final seconds,” said head coach Jeff Tambroni. “But I’m proud of how our guys hung in there … I’m proud of the way the guys rallied … through their seniors, through their captains. … I’m also very happy for our seniors, who will have one more chance to play on Schoellkopf Field after what was a disappointing loss last weekend.”

Senior attackman Ryan Hurley led the Red with two goals and two assists. Junior midfielder David Lua earned two goals with one assist, while senior attackman Chris Ritchie and sophomore midfielder Roy Lang each finished the match with two goals as well.

Between the pipes freshman A.J. Fiore made eight saves for the Red, earning the win, while sophomore Tyler Fiorito earned 15 in taking the loss.

The Tigers earned a statistical advantage on offense, holding the edge in shots, 44-40, ground balls, 23-15, and face-offs, where they were 12-of-21. The Red, however, was perfect on clears, achieving all 17 attempts and only turned the ball over seven times. By contrast, the Red forced six Tigers turnovers, with Princeton picking up five more of its own accord.

Tambroni said overall he was happy with his team’s play, especially in light of last weekend’s results.

“I’m very pleased with the way our team competed today against a very talented and driven Princeton squad,” he said. “It was a good charge for our guys right now. … We felt like last weekend we got caught up in the emotion. … This week we were very strict, [we told the players] to not allow anything but the game to come into play. They came in with a lot of focus.”

Hurley said the week of practice between the Brown loss and Princeton match was a vital part of the team’s win. Specifically, the team concentrated on preventing another relatively sluggish start like it had in the Brown contest.

“We had a great week of practice,” he said. “We knew we just had to come out early. Our whole message in practice was to go out and set the tone early. We were fortunate enough [against Princeton] to really execute [the plan].”

The first quarter began with a quick Cornell run, and the guests ended the period with a solid 4-0 lead. Ritchie was the first to draw blood, scoring in the lower-left hand corner just over a minute into the match off an assist by Lau. Hurley followed that effort up one minute later with a second score, this time from point-blank range. Lau scored on another short shot following a turnover forced by senior co-captain Pierce Derkac, and then Lang scored again to round out the first.

The Tigers worked hard to get something started offensively in the second, but the Red was able to counter their goals, and a back-and-forth exchange resulted in the 5-3 tally as both teams headed for the locker rooms.

Princeton opened the third with a man-up opportunity, but was unable to convert and eventually turned the ball over –– a turnover the Red took advantage of in transition, with senior defesenseman Andrew MacDonald finding Hurley for a point-blank goal. Passing on the offensive spark, Hurley hit freshman attackman Steve Mock less than 60 seconds later to push the lead up to 7-4.

Cornell had many more opportunities to score as the quarter continued, and converted on two of them, but the Tigers were saved from the development of a blowout by stellar play from Fiorito.

At the start of the final quarter the Red found itself leading, 9-3, with a man-up opportunity that had carried over from the pervious period. Cornell used the advantage to run down the clock, successfully gnawing off four minutes before a blocked shot and quick counterattack from Princeton ended the home club’s scoring drought.

The goal seemed to breathe some new life into Princeton, and the Tigers went on a tear, scoring four in a span of three minutes to thrust themselves back into the contest, suddenly now only a two-goal game.

The scoring run put the home crowd back in business as well, and emotions started to run high.

“It was a chance for [Princeton] to win the Ivy title outright,” Hurley said. “They had a lot to play for. They started to get momentum going — one thing kind of led to another.”

Lang attempted to break the momentum with an unassisted goal with less than seven minutes left to play, but the Tigers scored again with 4:56 left. Following a fast-break opportunity that Princeton was unable to take advantage of, the team retained possession following a Red penalty. As the fans moved to the edge of their seats, Cornell killed the penalty but was unable to stop a long shot from Tiger Alex Capretta that made it a one-goal game with just under three minutes remaining.

As the final two minutes ticked down, both teams renewed the struggle with last-gasp intensity. Both goalies registered a save, but Cornell’s turnover with 24 seconds left to play drew disappointed groans from fans remembering recent matches lost in the final seconds. The déjà vu moment was, fleeting, however, as Princeton’s final two shots sailed high and hit the post, respectively, allowing Cornell to hold on for the win.

“I always knew we could do it,” Hurley said. “I was nervous for a little bit, but confident in our team and in the whole week of practice.”

However, Hurley also said the team will need to continue to learn from its mistakes as it continues into postseason play.

“Offensively, we need to stay more consistent throughout the entire game,” he said, “and make smarter shots. We need to play the whole game — winning by a couple of seconds is not good enough.”

Original Author: Meredith Bennett-Smith