May 23, 2009

Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With more than a little magic in the air, underdog Cornell controlled top-seeded Virginia from start to finish, advancing to the program's first NCAA title contest in 21 years with a 15-6 victory over the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. The Big Red's NCAA semifinal triumph sets up a Central New York showdown for the Division I title, as Cornell will face No. 2 Syracuse, a 17-7 winner over No. 3 Duke, on Monday at 1 p.m. in a game that will be televised by ESPN. The Big Red improved to 13-3 overall, while Virginia's season ended with a 15-3 record.

Cornell held the high-powered Cavalier offense to two goals in the first half while running out to an 8-2 edge at the break and never trailed after opening the game with a 3-0 lead. The Big Red avenged an early-season loss at Virginia and will attempt to do the same against the Orange to claim the program's fourth NCAA title on Memorial Day.

"We are thrilled and proud of the effort of our guys today," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "They really dug in during a game where we knew we wouldn't have a lot of believers out there. We knew we needed to believe first and play hard second. We were fortunate enough to accomplish both of those against such a talented and dangerous Virginia team. We're excited we can move on into uncharted territory for the modern-day Cornell program. I hope we can prepare ourselves for that next juggernaut in Syracuse."

With the senior class missing out on Sunday's commencement ceremony to compete for their University, a rookie was the dominant force for a patient and disciplined offense. Freshman Rob Pannell was again fearless in the face of pressure, putting up his second six-point day of the season against Virginia with three goals and three assists to lead the offense. Junior Ryan Hurley broke out of a slump in a big way with three goals and an assist, while both Chris Finn (three goals) and Rocco Romero (two goals, one assist) also had three-point days. Tewaaraton Trophy candidate Max Seibald had a goal and an assist, as did David Lau, whose father, George, scored a goal for the Big Red in the 1977 national championship game.

Defensively, Jake Myers had eight saves and was steady throughout, backstopping a defense that has limited its last two opponents (No. 4 seed Princeton and No. 1 seed Virginia) to a combined 10 goals. Pierce Derkac and Matt Moyer combined for five ground balls and two caused turnovers, while Max Feely and Michael Howe were among the defenders who made a difference in limiting the 'Hoos throughout.

Virginia All-American attackman Danny Glading was held relatively in check by the Big Red defense, posting two goals and an assist. That total was matched by Steele Stanwick, while Garrett Billings chipped in a goal and an assist. Goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman made five saves and allowed all 15 goals, while Ken Clausen record three of the team's 13 caused turnovers. Former Dartmouth player Chad Gaudet won nine face-offs and scooped up a game-high five ground balls.

The Big Red held a 37-27 advantage in shots and a 32-30 edge in ground balls. The Cavaliers held a slight edge in face-offs (13-12) and forced 20 Cornell turnovers to the 18 caused by the Big Red. A crowd of 36,594, the seventh-highest NCAA semifinal attendance, watched Saturday's upset.

The number 21 holds great significance for the Big Red men's lacrosse program. The number worn by the late George Boiardi, the Big Red will be playing in its first national title contest in 21 years when it meets Syracuse. This particular group of 16 seniors has claimed four straight Ivy titles by winning 21 conference contests in four years. The championship game matchup will be the third time in the teams have met in the NCAA tournament and the second time Cornell and Syracuse will meet for the title. The two squads squared off for the 1988 title, with the Orange taking a 13-8 victory.

The teams traded possessions to open the game with a Myers' save thwarted by a Cornell turnover, but the Big Red got the ball back thanks to an unforced miscue by the Cavaliers. After several Cornell shots missed the mark, Hurley took the ball from the left corner, dodged past his man to the center of the field and fed Finn, who converted up high from five yards out. Less than a minute later, a loose ball in front of the Virginia goal led to a Cornell score as Jon Thomson beat Adam Ghitelman to the ball and scored on the empty net to make it a 2-0 game at the 10:38 mark.

After another Virginia turnover, the Big Red earned a 30-second man-up opportunity and Pannell fed Hurley right in front of the crease. The junior attackman spun to his left and beat Ghitelman up high to make it a 3-0 Cornell advantage with 9:27 to play in the quarter.

The Cavaliers backed up an errant shot to get possession and All-American Danny Glading got the top-seed on the board as he drove to the cage and scored from point-blank range to make it a 3-1 contest. An unassisted goal by Pannell, who rolled around the right side of the cage and beat Ghitelman over his right shoulder, gave the three-goal advantage back to the Big Red.

After winning the restart, the Big Red saw an extended possession ended by a moving pick call, which gave Virginia the ball with 2:40 to play in the quarter. The Cavaliers advanced the ball into their offensive zone and Coach Dom Starsia called a timeout, but the Big Red forced a turnover in front of the crease and the offense went back to work with 1:30 remaining in the quarter. Outstanding defensive pressure by the Cavaliers shut down Cornell's last second attempt, but the Big Red took the 4-1 lead into the first intermission.

Just 37 seconds into the second quarter, Romero pushed the lead to four goals as he streaked down the right alley and beat Ghitelman down low.

It took nearly 10 minutes for the Big Red to score again, but Romero found Hurley cutting to the crease and the All-American turned and shot in one motion to make it a 6-1 game with 4:58 remaining in the opening half. Just over one minute later, Shamel Bratton ended the Cavaliers' 17:32 scoring drought and cut the deficit to four goals.

Virginia won the ensuing face-off, but turned the ball over in front of the crease and Cornell's transition offense made them pay as Austin Boykin registered the first tournament point of his career when he found Pannell, who scored from 10 yards out. Pannell set up the Big Red's next goal, as Finn registered a man-up goal to make it an 8-2 game with 2:21 to play in the second quarter. A save by Myers gave Cornell the ball back with one minute to play in the half, but the Big Red could not convert and took an 8-2 lead into half time.

Myers opened the third quarter with back-to-back saves and the offense rewarded its goalie when Finn scored a goal off a pass from Glynn to make it a 9-2 game at the 13:31 mark. After flying out of the gates in the first two minutes, the two saves seemed to take some steam out of the Cavaliers, and the goal deflated them even more.

Virginia won the restart, but Derkac caused a turnover at the sideline and the offense went back to work. Cornell ran several minutes of the clock, but a turnover gave the ball back to the Cavaliers and a Big Red penalty gave Virginia its first man-up opportunity of the day. The Big Red killed the penalty, but Glading found Stanwick on the crease to make it a six-goal game at the 9:29 mark.

Just over one minute later, some defensive confusion by the Cavaliers left Hurley wide open behind the crease. Pannell quickly found his favorite target and Hurley rolled around the crease, faked high and beat Ghitelman low to make it a 10-3 contest.

Cornell won the restart, but a turnover led to another Stanwick goal on the other end, making it a 10-4 game with 6:34 to go in the quarter.

After the teams traded possessions off turnovers on each end, Romero found Seibald sprinting into the box. The senior midfielder took two steps, drew the double-team and fed the ball back to Romero, who beat Ghitelman up high from 10 yards out to push Cornell's lead back to seven goals.

Cornell managed to get the ball back with just over two minutes to play in the quarter. The Big Red managed several shots in the waning seconds, but couldn't find the cage, as it took the 11-4 lead into the final intermission.

Virginia wasted no time scoring in the fourth quarter, as Garrett Billings scored from close range just 44 seconds in, off a pass by Stanwick. A brilliant Ghitelman save thwarted the Big Red's first offensive possession, but after a Virginia crease violation gave the ball back to Cornell, David Lau found the back of the net for his first goal of the tournament.

A failed clear by the Big Red gave the ball to Virginia and Glading tallied his second of the day, to make it a 12-6 game, but the Big Red answered just 11 seconds later when Lang picked up the ground ball off the face off, streaked unabated to the crease and bounced a shot past Ghitelman to make it a 13-6 game with 9:42 to play. Cornell pushed the lead back to eight when Seibald ripped a corner with 8:37 left to end his scoring on the day.

Pannell added to the lead at the 6:09 mark of the fourth quarter when he took a pass from Lau on the edge of the crease and bounced the goal into the net. On the play, Virginia's Matt Kelly was whistled for an unnecessary roughness penalty by sending Lau to the turf. On the ensuing man-advantage, the Big Red was content to work the ball around the offensive zone, eating away precious seconds as the one-minute penalty expired. As Kelly was released, a pair of penalty flags were thrown to the side of the cage, but the Big Red maintained possession for another 2:45 before play was stopped. When the flags were finally sorted out, Chris Conlan was called for slashing and cross-checking and Ryan Nizolek was called for a slash as well. The Big Red wasn't threatened late despite each team turning it over twice in the final two minutes. Cornell controlled the ball in the final seconds, running the clock down to zero before a rather subdued celebration prior to the handshake line.