Men's Lacrosse: Midfielders lead charge en route to 10-7 victory
No. 4 Princeton (13-2 overall, 5-1 Ivy League) advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament Sunday afternoon with a 10-7 victory over UMass (9-6, 6-1 Eastern College Athletic Conference) in front of a crowd of more than 2,000 at the Class of 1952 Stadium.
In a game featuring several of the nation’s top attackmen on both squads, it was Princeton’s midfielders that made the difference in the victory. The Tiger offensive midfield consisting of senior Mark Kovler, senior Rich Sgalardi and junior Scott MacKenzie combined to score nine of Princeton’s 10 goals, including the Tigers’ first eight, and accounted for 12 of Princeton’s 13 points on the day. Kovler led all scorers with five goals and one assist, matching his career highs for both goals and points and leading the Tigers to an early, and ultimately insurmountable, 6-1 lead.
Senior attackman Tommy Davis contributed a score late in the third quarter. His goal was the only statistical offensive contribution made by the Princeton attack all day.
The Minutemen opened the game by winning the first faceoff but were promptly shut down by Fiorito. UMass’ first four trips down the field ended in one turnover and three saves by Fiorito, who finished with 12 saves in the contest. Fiorito also earned the distinction of being the second freshman netminder ever to start in goal for the Tigers in the school’s NCAA tournament history.
In the opposite net, Doc Schneider, UMass’ All-American and the nation’s top ranked goalie by save percentage, made his share of good saves, managing in one particular series to stop two shots from two different Princeton players within three seconds. The relentless firepower from the Tigers, however, eventually proved too much for even Schneider, as he crouched down and appeared somewhat winded after a strenuous defensive series in the second quarter.
“It’s tough scoring on that guy,” head coach Bill Tierney said. “To get double figures on him and be up 6-1 at the half, we really felt good about that. I thought we executed as well as we possibly could. That was a really good team with a lot of really good offensive players. Nobody has gone after us that hard; nobody has gone after [freshman defenseman] Chad Wiedmaier that hard, as [attackman] Jim Connolly did today. Offensively, we did what we had to do.”
Sgalardi started the Tigers’ midfield blitz with an early score at the 11-minute, 14-second mark in the first quarter. Taking a pass from MacKenzie about 20 feet outside the goal, Sgalardi launched a shot past Schneider to give Princeton the early 1-0 advantage. UMass finally snuck a shot past Fiorito three possessions later to tie the game at 1-1. The Minutemen, however, didn’t score for the next 23 minutes as Kovler and company took over the show.
Kovler started his scoring barrage with a quick inside slant on his defender, beating him to the goal from the out-of-bounds play. He followed that score in the second quarter with a similarly quick juke step, faking his defender left and spinning to the right to open up his shot. Kovler, known for his left-handed cannonballs, scored that goal with his non-dominant hand. Perhaps his most memorable score of the afternoon came barely a minute later: Finding an opening with a direct line to the goal, Kovler wound up and unleashed a monster of a shot. Schneider actually caught the ball in would have been a great save, but the sheer velocity of the ball knocked the goalie backward off his feet, sending the ball flying over the plane of the goal before Schneider could recover.
Schneider’s sheer frustration at that particular score and at the general progression of the first half displayed itself a few minutes later. Racing sophomore attackman Jack McBride to the ball after an errant Princeton shot, Schneider was tagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty and had to sit out for 60 seconds. With the Minutemen’s backup netminder in goal, Kovler scored on yet another blistering shot off the left side.
“This week, since we finally finished up with classes, we’ve been able to get out early in the day and after practice and get some extra shooting with [assistant head coach David] Metzbower,” Kovler said. “He really breaks down the goalie. Just the extra shooting, the repetition, really helped us a lot today.”
There have been 21 goals scored in the first half in Princeton’s past three games. The score over that time frame has been 20-1 in favor of the Tigers.
“Our offense has been this way really all year,” Sgalardi said. “Someone steps up, a different guy each game. Our offense is really spread, and that’s one of the special things about it. It could be anybody scoring a couple goals here, getting a couple of assists. Everybody’s really unselfish. If one guy’s on, we just get the ball to him and let him do his best. If we see something’s working for us, we just try to stick with it.”
“I think for all the seniors, our last game at home, just being able to go out and do what we had to do to beat a really good team, that’s what it’s all about,” Kovler said. “Especially after last year when Rich and I weren’t able to finish up the season, we’re just trying to make this one last as long as we can.”
With the victory, Princeton improved to 3-0 all time against UMass, with all three contests coming in the NCAA tournament. Princeton improves its all-time NCAA tournament record to 30-11 and will look to add to that mark next week when it takes on No. 5 Cornell. The second-round game will be played Saturday at noon in Shuart Stadium at Hofstra. The Tigers will look to get revenge for the Big Red’s 10-7 victory earlier this season.
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