After convincingly defeating its in-state nemesis Syracuse on Tuesday, Cornell men’s lacrosse continued its winning ways Saturday afternoon with a 12-10 victory over Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The Red (9-3, 3-1 Ivy) looked slow at times but found a way to grind out a victory, with some key players coming up big when it counted. The Mountain Hawks (8-5, 5-2 Patriot League) are the third high-quality team that Cornell has faced within the last week, and during the game it was evident that the team was tired.
“Really happy to come away with an important win at the end of a really long week,” said interim head coach Peter Milliman. “The tank was definitely not full going into the game, and we knew that, so it was a matter of grinding out possessions and defensive stops.”
Cornell gave up the first goal of the game early to the Mountain Hawks but pulled away to a slim lead by the end of the first quarter. The Red’s offense, the best in the nation, then used productive second and third frames to pull away.
“I was happy with the guys; they dug in when they needed to,” Milliman said. “We obviously have some things to work on as always, but it’s great to get the [win].”
Lehigh would make it interesting, outscoring Cornell in the game’s final period to pull within two, but it wasn’t enough to erase the Red’s lead, which was as large as five goals at two separate points in the game.
“These are tough games to win,” Milliman said. “I didn’t expect us to be able to accelerate and run away from [Lehigh], I kind of knew it was going to be [close].”
Sophomore attack Jeff Teat continued his dominance as one of the premier offensive weapons in the nation, leading all scorers with six points on two goals and four assists — a relatively slow day for the Cornell standout who leads the country with 6.45 points per game.
Sophomore goalkeeper Caelahn Bullen continued his strong play in the cage, notching double-digit saves for the second consecutive game.
“[Bullen] has been a huge piece to pulling out the last few games,” Milliman said. “We know him, we trust him, he knows the defense … We don’t need him to be the best goalie in the country, we just need him to be the best version of [himself].”
Despite the Red’s game-winning performance overall, Lehigh outpaced Cornell in a couple of statistical areas, namely faceoffs and ground balls. Mountain Hawk FOGO Conor Gaffney torched the Red, winning 15 of the 22 draws he took. Gaffney’s faceoff winning percentage of .587 continues to be one of the top marks in the country.
“[Gaffney] is awesome. I’m not going to overthink it,” Milliman said. “We lost the faceoffs pretty badly, we lost the ground ball battle because of that, but we found a way to beat a top-20 team.”
As the 2018 season enters its twilight, Cornell must keep its game clean and sharp, as the team’s two remaining games of the season will prove crucial in determining its postseason fate.
Saturday’s contest was the last time Cornell will face an out-of-conference opponent for the remainder of the season, as the Red returns to Ithaca next Saturday at 1 p.m. to take on Brown in its final game at Schoellkopf before travelling to Princeton for the regular season finale the following week.
“When you get to the end of the Ivy season … the scouting reports are a little bit easier to get together,” Milliman said. “I feel confident that we have what we need to compete, but we have to show up every day to play.”
Cornell currently sits in second place in the Ivy League behind conference-unbeaten Yale. The circuit’s top four teams will play in the conference tournament, the winner of which receives an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament. The Ivy League tournament is scheduled for May 4 and 6 in New York City.