After 13 hardfought games, including five within the Ivy League, men’s lacrosse playoff hopes came down to one contest: Last Saturday against Princeton (9-4, 3-3 Ivy). With a victory, the team could take a share of the Ivy League title, but with a loss, its postseason plans become more complicated.
In a high pressure environment in New Jersey, Cornell showed up, topping Princeton 18-15 to claim its 30th Ivy League title.
The Red (11-3, 4-2 Ivy) entered this past week on a two game skid. Early deficits against both Army and Brown had put Cornell’s season ending in uncertainty. The Red was also dealing with the death of legendary coach Richie Moran, who coached the team for 29 seasons from 1969 to 1997, winning three championships and 15 Ivy League Championships. With all these events swirling together, Cornell took the field against the Tigers.
In recent games, the Red has been struggling with building an early lead. This was not the case against Princeton. While Cornell did initially fall behind 1-0, this was its only deficit of the day. The Tigers’ lead was short-lived, however, as sophomore midfielder Hugh Kelleher got the equalizer just over two minutes into the game. Kelleher started his possession just in front of the x, located behind the goal cage, beating his defender and firing to the top left corner.
Kelleher’s goal got the offense going, as it was the first of three consecutive scores for the Red. Sophomore attacker CJ Kirst and junior attacker Michael Long each notched their first, and Cornell was up 3-1 five minutes in.
The Tigers refused to be put away early, responding with two of its own. Nevertheless, the Cornell offense came to play on Saturday, as it ended the first quarter scoring five of the last six goals. Kirst and Long continued to contribute, while fifth year attacker John Piatelli and senior attacker Billy Coyle each got on the board for the first time. The Red ended the first quarter leading, 8-4.
“I thought the guys came ready to play,” said Head Coach Connor Buczek ’15. “I was proud of the way that we started, obviously had not started our best in the last two and it put us in a hole, so [I] was proud of the way the guys showed up and competed from the get-go.”
Cornell started the second quarter strong, as Piatelli bullied his way past the Princeton defense to score from point-blank range, his second of the day. After the Tigers responded with one of its own, the Red went on another run, scoring three unanswered goals to close out the half. Coyle, Long and fifth year midfielder Matt Licciardi all found the back of the net, and Cornell went into the locker room leading, 12-5.
A mere 14 seconds into the second half, the Red found itself a man up after a Princeton pushing penalty. This was all it needed to extend its lead to eight, with Coyle notching a hat-trick on the day. But once again, the Tigers refused to be put away, roaring back to score eight of the next nine goals in the quarter.
The sole Cornell goal came when Long, playing behind the net, found Kirst in front, who beat the Princeton keeper to his left. The Red got another big goal with 21 seconds left in the quarter from junior attacker Spencer Wirtheim, but headed into the final period with its lead cut to two, 15-13.
“That [Wirtheim’s] was a big goal off a little broken situation,” Buczek said. “Just a tough ground ball, Spence got across the front of the goal. That was a really big one just to steady us going into the fourth quarter.”
Just over two and a half minutes into the fourth quarter, Cornell’s lead was cut to one. Nevertheless, the Red refused to relinquish its lead. With just under nine minutes remaining, Piatelli put Cornell up by two, using the same move he had earlier in the game to swim past the Princeton defender and finish right in front of the goal.
56 seconds later, the Red was leading by three, as Long was able to make a play from behind the net, sprinting around the corner and finishing the bar down on the top left corner. This is all Cornell needed for the remainder of the quarter, as a goal from the Tigers with 5:22 remaining in the game was not enough. Piatelli nailed the dagger on an open net with 39 seconds left, and the Red took the match, 18-15.
Piatelli, Long and Kirst led the scoring with four apiece, and Piatelli finished the regular season with a team-high 51 goals. On defense, senior defender Gavin Adler forced five turnovers continuing his shutdown season on the back end. With this win, the Red secured a spot in the Ivy League Tournament.
“He [Adler] was a rock star – he’s such a stud,” Buczek said. “He shows up every game, he gets the best matchup on the field and he just continues to deliver. Eight ground balls is incredible, five caused turnovers is pretty amazing, so we’re lucky that he’s in red.”
Cornell will travel to Providence, Rhode Island, as the No. 2 seed in the Ivy League Tournament. It will take on No. 3 Yale (10-3, 4-2 Ivy) at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 6. The second game, held at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, pits No. 1 Brown (10-4, 4-2 Ivy) against No. 4 Penn (8-4, 3-3 Ivy). The winners of the two matches will face off for the tournament title on Sunday, May 8 at noon.