With snow covering the stands and surrounding buildings, No. 3 men’s lacrosse (4-1) took the field against No. 8 Penn State (5-1) in its second consecutive top-10 matchup. In a game highlighted by defensive prowess and sloppy offensive play, it was the Nittany Lions which pulled away in the fourth quarter, winning, 10-6.
It was a defensive battle throughout the first half, with both teams racking up saves and forcing turnovers. The Red struggled to break through the Nittany Lions’ goalkeeper Jack Fracyon, who saved six of seven shots on goal in the first quarter. Cornell’s lone goal came midway through the quarter, when senior attacker Billy Coyle drove from behind the net and converted a wraparound.
Matt Traynor provided all the offense for Penn State in the first quarter, scoring twice. His second goal just crossed the goal crease but was nonetheless counted by the officials. Senior goalkeeper Chayse Ierlan mitigated the damage, saving 11 shots in the first half.
Following a Penn State timeout five minutes into the second quarter, Traynor was able to reach a hat trick, going top shelf from just outside the crease. Six minutes later, the Nittany Lions increased its lead to three when Jake Morin got a low one hopper past Ierlan.
Despite staying even in faceoffs and winning the ground ball fight, Cornell struggled to generate offense in the second quarter. The Red fired off 12 shots, but just five on goal. Junior attacker CJ Kirst, who had an uncharacteristically quiet first half, had a shot from point blank range saved by Fracyon with just over five minutes remaining.
“A lot of credit to that team –– they came in, they played well, they played tough, they battled,” said head coach Connor Buczek ’15. “But for us, I don’t think we executed as well as we wanted to, we didn’t handle the ball as well as we needed to in the first half, we didn’t shoot the ball that well in the second half, we didn’t create a whole lot of chaos on the ride.”
Cornell also struggled with turnovers, giving the ball up six times in the second period. Nevertheless, Coyle was able to cut the deficit to two with just over two minutes left, again charging from behind the net and threading a shot inside the near post. The Red went into the locker room trailing, 4-2.
“I liked my matchup behind the goal,” Coyle said. “I tried to take advantage of the way he was playing me and how I was able to get topside where he was overcommitting and I was able to go the other way.”
Entering the second half, the Red’s offense showed signs of life. After an opening possession turnover, Ierlan saved a shot from Traynor, setting up a Cornell opportunity. Rotating around the back of the net, Kirst was able to find junior midfielder Hugh Kelleher cutting to the front of the crease. Kelleher cashed in the open look, and the Red trailed by one.
“We were self inflicting a lot today in that first half specifically, so in the second half we played a little cleaner and created some more opportunities,” Buczek said. “But the goalie made some great saves, so a lot of credit to those guys and the defensive game plan that they had.”
Four minutes later, it was Kirst getting his first to tie the game up. The junior made a spin move to get his left hand free, and rocketed a shot from five yards out to knot the game up at four.
Ierlan was under heavy pressure throughout the quarter, as Penn State kept up a barrage of shots. The Nittany Lions’ Luke Mercer was able to give the team the lead again at the seven minute mark, going top shelf on an open look from the left side.
Two minutes later, Penn State was able to rattle off two quick goals to extend its lead to three. First a nifty inside pass from Kevin Winkoff to TJ Malone set up an open look from just outside the crease.
The Nittany Lions won the ensuing faceoff, and quickly rushed down the field, scoring from the same spot 14 seconds later. Faceoffs proved to be a problem for the Red in the third period, as the team had a 38 percent win rate.
Two late goals from the Red kept the game within reach. With two minutes left in the period, Kirst was able to rotate around the back of the net and beat Fracyon on the far side.
A minute later, junior midfielder Ryan Sheehan found junior midfielder Andrew Dalton in open space, who went top shelf from five yards out as the shot clock expired. Cornell went into the final 15 trailing, 7-6.
The Nittany Lions’ defense was dominant in the fourth quarter, forcing four turnovers and blanking the Red. On the offensive end, Penn State scored three goals on seven shots on goal. The highlight of the period came on a goal at the seven minute mark when Ethan Long flipped a no-look, behind the back pass to Jack Traynor, who converted the open look.
“At the end of the day, scoring six goals isn’t going to cut it,” Coyle said. “I think our execution on the offensive end wasn’t up to par. The goalie [Fracyon] made some nice saves, credit to him, but we got to put in some better spots –– we can’t let the elements get to us. I feel like we just couldn’t really get into rhythm.”
Riding a four goal lead, Penn State was able to run out the clock. The Red had its undefeated season ended after five games, losing, 10-6. Ierlan finished with 21 saves.
“I think our whole defense did a good job trying to limit their runs,” Ierlan said. “All in all, I think we played a solid game back there, just managing those runs and trying to put our foot in the ground a little more.”
Cornell’s Ivy League season starts next weekend when the Red travels to New Haven, CT to take on Yale. The game is set to start at noon on Saturday, March 18 and will be available on ESPN+.