Feb. 28, 2009

Courtesy of Princeton

BALTIMORE -- Bill Tierney began to talk about how hard it can be to play with a big lead. Then he paused and chuckled.

“The only thing harder,” said Princeton’s Hall-of-Fame men’s lacrosse coach, “is to play with a huge deficit.”

Tierney saw both ends of the equation in his last two appearances in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic games against Johns Hopkins, and he liked the 2009 version much better.

Jack McBride scored four goals and Tyler Fiorito made 11 saves to lead Princeton to a 14-8 win over Johns Hopkins in the third annual Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The game was almost a mirror image of the meeting between the teams in the same stadium 52 weeks earlier.

Princeton (ranked ninth in the coaches’ poll and 11th in the media poll) improved to 2-0 on the young season by sprinting past the Blue Jays (ranked sixth and third), who played in the NCAA championship game a year ago and returned almost its entire highly rated defensive unit.

The Tigers, though, erupted past the Jays, leading 6-1 after the first quarter and 9-1 midway through the second quarter. Anytime Hopkins tried to make a run, Princeton had the answers, offensively, defensively and in transition.

This all came on the heels of last year’s game, when it was Hopkins who led 1-0 after 10 seconds, 5-0 at the end of the first quarter, 8-0 before Princeton scored, 10-1 at halftime and then 14-9 at the end.

“It was the same, just reversed,” Tierney said. “We’re happy to be on the other end this time. We got some early that might not have fallen on another day, but they got us started. Then our confidence grew.”

Princeton, who averaged 32 shots per game a year ago, took 51 shots for the game, which comes on the heels of a 60-shot effort in an opening 14-6 win over Canisius last week. Princeton scored at least 14 goals in back-to-back games for the first time since 2002.

“Coach Tierney is encouraging us to shoot,” said McBride, who scored four goals a week ago as well. “He still yells at us if we miss, but he wants us to keep shooting.”

Scott MacKenzie started the scoring three minutes into the game, and Mark Kovler scored one minute later. McBride’s first made it 3-0 with 8:51 left in the first, but Hopkins got on the board with Michael Kimmel’s goal less than a minute after that.

But Princeton would roll to six straight goals after that, including another by Kovler and McBride and man-up goals by Rob Engelke and Greg Seaman. Face-off man Paul Barnes scored the first goal of his career during that run as well.

Hopkins would score the final two goals of the first half to make it 9-3 at intermission, but any chance the Jays had of gaining some momentum ended on Princeton’s first goal of the second half.

It began when Fiorito made a save and began to clear before getting trapped outside the box. He then flipped to fellow-freshman Chad Wiedmaier, who ran straight down the middle of the field into the other box. Instead of shooting, the longstick Wiedmaier fed to another freshman longstick, John Cunningham, who rocketed one into the Hopkins net.

Before it ended, Barnes would add another goal, Josh Lesko would get his first of the year and McBride would get two more to blow it wide open.

Fiorito made 11 saves, including five in the second quarter. That put Tierney in position to have to choose between keeping Fiorito in the game or putting in Nikhil Ashra, as he had done a week earlier.

“Nikhil wouldn’t let me put him in,” Tierney said. “The kid [Fiorito] was on fire. How could I take him out?”

Fiorito made four more second-half saves in playing his first career complete game.

“My teammates have been very supportive,” Fiorito said. “Especially Nikhil. It was great to play here, so close to home, against Hopkins.”

Both teams play at UMBC in their next game, as Hopkins takes on the Retrievers Tuesday night and Princeton returns to Baltimore Friday night. Princeton also is home next Sunday (March 8) against Manhattan.

Hopkins leads the series with Princeton 54-25, but the Tigers lead 13-12 since Tierney became head coach.