May 9, 2010

Courtesy of Princeton

What started out as just another frustrating afternoon for the Princeton's men's lacrosse team against Cornell ended up with a mad celebration of Orange and Black in the Schoellkopf Field end zone.

Jack McBride's goal with one second remaining in the first overtime capped a ferocious Princeton comeback and gave the Tigers a 10-9 win over Cornell in the final of the first Ivy League tournament in front of 2,942 fans on a chilly Mothers' Day in Ithaca that began with snow flurries. The win gives Princeton the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

It was also the second 10-9 game that Princeton and Cornell played in eight days, after the Big Red won a week ago at Class of 1952 Stadium. In that game, Princeton was down big as well and had its comeback fall one goal short.

"The second half and overtime," said Princeton goalie Tyler Fiorito, the tournament Most Valuable Player who made two of his 16 saves in the final 1:06 of regulation, "that's where you saw our character."

Princeton was playing Cornell for the fourth time in its last 20 games, and this one started out just like the previous three, as the Big Red won the opening face-off and scored on the way to building a big early lead. Trailing 7-3 late in the third, Princeton turned it all around, tying it at 7-7, taking a lead at 9-8, withstanding seven Cornell shots after it was tied at 9-9 and finally winning it when McBride dodged from behind the goal and scored lefthanded to just beat the clock.

"Obviously, we don't want to play from behind," said Fiorito. "But we'd been in that situation before, and we knew we had a lot of time to come back."

Cornell had the lead for 175:32 of the 180 minutes of the last three games, and Princeton had never even tied the game again in any of those three after falling behind. This time, Cornell scored quickly even by its standards, grabbing a 1-0 lead in 16 second as Austin Boykin won the face-off and got it to Ryan Hurley for the goal.

It was 2-0 after 5:05, 4-1 at the end of the first quarter (Princeton's goal came from freshman Luke Armour's career score), 5-1 in the second and 6-2 at the half, and it got there with the same formula as the three that preceded it. Cornell won face-offs (7 for 10 in the first half, including 4 for 4 in the second), picked up ground balls (20-4 in the first half, including 14-1 in the second) and didn't turn the ball over (twice in the first half), which led to a 26-17 edge in shots after two. Only Fiorito's 11-first half saves kept it close.

"It was 14-1 on ground balls in the second quarter," Princeton coach Chris Bates said. "I've never seen something like that. Plus, it seemed we were man-down the whole time [six first-half penalties]. We needed to get possession, and I thought we did a great job of that in the second half. It started with Peter Smyth, who did a great job facing off in the second half. We had the ball, and that changed things."

Even as the statistical tide started to turn after intermission, Cornell still had a four-goal lead when Jack Dudley made it a 7-3 game with 4:38 left in the third.

But just as Princeton knew Cornell could start fast, Cornell knew Princeton could finish that way. The Tigers have had huge second-half comebacks all season, including the one a week ago that came up just short. In that game, Princeton trailed 4-0 in the first and 9-3 in the fourth before scoring six times in nine minutes, and Princeton had outscored its opponents 48-31 after the third quarter for the year.

Princeton tightened up every phase of its game, winning 8 of 12 face-offs, having a 19-8 edge in ground balls and outshooting Cornell 26-13 in the second half. Cornell also turned it over six times in the third quarter alone.

Rob Engelke started Princeton back with 3:08 left in the third, and McBride scored with 1:25 remaining to make it 7-5 at the break.

The Tigers then did something they hadn't done in an eternity against Cornell - tie the score - when Scott MacKenzie and Chris McBride scored in the first three minutes of the fourth.

McBride's goal also saw Cornell's Max Feely called for a slash, so Princeton went man-up after that. Cornell, though, won the face-off, and Hurley scored his third of the day and seventh of the tournament man-down to make it 8-7 Big Red just 21 seconds after it was tied.

Jack McBride would also score again to make it 8-8, and John Cunningham scored eight seconds later to give Princeton its first lead at 9-8. Roy Lang tied it with 2:51 left, and that set up the wild end of the game.

Cornell won the face-off an had possession for the rest of regulation. The Big Red threw up six shots in the last 2:14, and Fiorito stuffed shots from a wide-open Stee Mock with 1:06 left and again on a good look from Rob Pannell with just 10 seconds to play.

The face-off for overtime was also won by Cornell, and Pannell (one goal in 12 shots, two goals in 31 shots in four career games against Princeton) had a chance to win it off a mad scramble before Jeremy Hirsch dove and just got a piece of Pannell's stick. Princeotn cleared and two shots, but the Tigers then turned it over. Cornell cleared and called timeout, but Pannell's feed to Hurley was high and went over the end line with 24 seconds left.

Princeton cleared, and MacKenzie's shot went wide. McBride took it on the restart with eight seconds left from behind the net.

"I'd had a great battle with Max Feely all game," McBride said. "Rob Engelke told me we didn't have much time, and I thought that I'd gone right all day. I figured I'd go left. Then, I think he thought I was going to roll back, but I went to my left. It's not my best shot, but I think it surprised them."

McBride, Engelke and defenseman Long Ellis joined Fiorito on the all-tournament team.

Princeton is now 11-4; Cornell is 10-5.