This story has been updated.
For the first time since 2013, men’s lacrosse competed on championship weekend, squaring off against No. 6 seed Rutgers (15-4, 4-1 Big Ten) in East Hartford, Connecticut. The Red remained in control for the full 60 minutes, navigating a three hour and thirty seven minute lightning delay at halftime to secure a convincing 17-10 win.
The Red (14-4, 4-2) has been playing its best lacrosse during the NCAA tournament, defeating Ohio State, Delaware and now Rutgers to advance to the national title game for the first time since 2009.
“I’m so proud of this group. I can’t express in words the progress that they made throughout the course of this year and what they’ve dealt with over the last couple of years,” said head coach Connor Buczek ’15. “I don’t know if we’re the most talented team in the country, but certainly these guys work as hard as anybody.”
With the win, Buczek will become the youngest head coach to lead his team to the title game.
“It’s a cool honor, but it is so far from me that is making this thing go,” Buczek said. “There’s 60 guys … that really make this place what it is. Cornell is a special place, we’re surrounded by special people. A place that means so much to me, it’s really cool to be on this stage and to have the success that we have.”
The game did not start smoothly for the Red, as Rutgers struck first when Mitch Bartolo snuck a shot past senior goaltender Chase Ierlan five minutes into the first quarter.
However, the Red was quick to respond, with fifth-year captain John Piatelli putting Cornell on the board halfway through the first quarter. Piatelli finished with five goals in the contest.
“The whole mentality this year has just been ‘let’s get that first goal,’” Piatelli said. “In this game we didn’t, but you just turn the page and get the next goal … It’s just one play at a time, you make that play and then you make the next one.”
Junior faceoff specialist Angelo Petrakis won the ensuing faceoff, setting up another Cornell possession. A minute after Piatelli scored, sophomore attacker CJ Kirst fired a shot below the knees of his brother and Rutgers goaltender Colin Kirst to put the Red in front 2-1.
Kirst finished with a hat trick on his brother. Right as the final whistle blew, CJ ran to his brother to hug him.
“I went up to Colin and said ‘heck of a game,’ gave him a big hug and said ‘I love ya,’” CJ said.
Cornell finished the first quarter strong, with junior attackman Michael Long finding the back of the net for his 30th of the season to give Cornell a 3-1 lead after the first quarter.
Petrakis won the faceoff to start the second quarter, but Colin Kirst got the better of CJ with a save to keep Rutgers within two.
After clearing the ball, Rutgers stormed into the offensive end and scored to cut Cornell’s lead to 3-2.
The Red prevented Rutgers from building any momentum. After the Scarlet Knights’s goal, another faceoff win by Petrakis set up sophomore midfielder Ryan Sheehan’s third of the season to give Cornell a 4-2 lead.
Cornell lost the ensuing faceoff, but a hustle play by senior defenseman Gavin Adler forced a turnover and eventually led to an opportunity for sophomore midfielder Hugh Kelleher to put Cornell up 5-2.
After allowing a goal with seven minutes left in the half, the Red finished the first half with three unanswered goals.
The ride was on display for Cornell in the second quarter, as a Rutgers turnover on a failed clear led to Long’s second of the game to put Cornell ahead 6-3 with just over six minutes left in the half.
Less than two minutes later, Kelleher’s second of the game gave Cornell a 7-3 lead.
With just over two minutes to go in the half, it was Long on the ride again, turning over the Scarlet Knights and flushing home his third of the day. Cornell took an 8-3 lead into the locker room.
It was at this point that the Red faced its second lightning delay of the tournament, two weeks after a 90 minute delay against Ohio State.
“We had that experience with Ohio State in the first round where we had a lightning delay as well, so we’ve dealt with it,” Piatelli said. “The ability to get on the field and play is always a blessing and pleasure, so when you get out there you just gotta give it everything you got.”
The team’s experience of waiting through delays combined with their desire to win helped players stay focused during the delay.
“A lot of the guys in the room have been waiting just to play for the last two years. A few more hours wasn’t gonna hurt at all,” said senior goaltender Chayse Ierlan.
While the Rutgers players branched out in the tunnels outside the locker rooms, Cornell players mostly stayed in their locker room during the delay.
“We were all talking. No phones were really out. We all just were being present in the moment, knowing that when we got our shot we were gonna be prepared,” CJ Kirst said. “Every senior stepped up and made sure that every underclassmen was doing what they can to be prepared for when we got back on the field.”
After nearly four hours of waiting, the game finally resumed.
The Scarlet Knights opened up the third with a goal to come within four. Just a minute later, Kirst made the highlight of the game, splitting a double team and finding the back of the net against his brother to extend the lead back to five.
Kirst’s goal opened the floodgates for an explosive third quarter from the Red. Cornell scored six unanswered goals, including a natural hat trick from Piatelli. Rutgers was able to respond late in the third, but the Red entered the final quarter with a commanding 14-5 lead.
“Great defensive stops, tough ground balls, running the field, creating, and then you get John Piatelli with a couple there,” Buczek said. “Flipping the script on that felt like the difference maker and really what gave us some steam when we needed it, especially coming out in that second half.”
Cornell grew the lead to double digits for the first time in the fourth, when Long was able to turn the corner from behind the net and beat Colin Kirst stick side.
After the Scarlet Knights responded, CJ Kirst found Piatelli alone in front of the crease, who fired it for his fifth of the day, putting the Red back up by ten midway through the fourth quarter. The goal was Piatelli’s 65th of the season, tying Mike French’s single season goal record, set in 1976.
“I had no idea [I tied the record]. I knew I was close. I went over to the sideline and one of my friends on the team mentioned that,” Piatelli said. “Obviously it’s a cool thing. Mike French is a Cornell great and he’s been a big role model for me.”
CJ Kirst scored the dagger with four and a half minutes left, finishing with a hat trick against his brother. Rutgers was able to find a few garbage time goals, but the Red came away with the win, 17-10.
Cornell was firing on all cylinders, as Ierlan had one of his best performances of the season, with 15 saves. Senior All-American defenseman Gavin Adler forced two turnovers and secured seven ground balls.
The Red will take on No. 1 Maryland in the national championship game at Rentschler Field on Monday at 1 p.m. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.