April 4, 2009

Courtesy of Princeton

The first name Bill Tierney mentioned in the locker room was Connor McKemey, a 14-year-old South Carolina lacrosse player who was burned over 85 percent of his body in a house fire at Christmas. This happened while his father was serving as a Marine in Iraq.

"We got our strength from Connor," Tienrey repeated in the interview room.

Compared to what he's going through, what was a little thing like taking on the defending NCAA champion and second-ranked Syracuse Orange at Giants Stadium in the first Big City Classic?

Fifth-ranked Princeton, wearing "Bear Down" helmet stickers in honor of Connor's nickname, never trailed on its way to a solid 12-8 win over the Orange. Freshman goalie Tyler Fiorito made 15 saves, while Mark Kovler and Jack McBride scored three times each.

The game was the middle one of the Big City Classic, which began when top-ranked Virginia held off No. 10 North Carolina 11-10 and concluded with the Hofstra-Delaware game.

"I got a letter from an alum who told me Connor's story," Tierney said. "I wrote a letter to him, and I encouraged the players to do so as well. Every one of them did. It's sort of grown from that."

The win improved Princeton to 8-1 overall with five Ivy League games remaining, beginning Tuesday night at Penn. Syracuse fell to 7-2.

Princeton and Syracuse have combined to win 15 of the last 21 NCAA titles, including the one the Orange won last May.

The Tigers were hardly perfect on offense, with 18 turnovers and five failed clears, but Princeton scored big goals when they were needed. The defense was tremendous all day, especially freshman Fiorito and Chad Wiedmaier, who forced three turnovers and held All-America Orange attackman Kenny Nims (two goals) basically in check. Princeton would have two separate runs of holding the Orange scoreless of at least 13 minutes, including a 14:58 that covered most of the fourth quarter and saw the Tigers pull away.

Princeton came into the game ranked 56th out of 57 teams in Division I in man-down defense, while Syracuse was ranked No. 1 in extra-man offense. Yale had gone 3 for 3 on extra-man opportunities against Princeton last week, and teams were scoring on better than 50% of their EMOs against the Tigers. Syracuse, on the other hand, was scoring on 67% of its EMOs.

The most telling moment of the game came when Brendan Reilly scored his third career goal to make it 8-6 Tigers with 4:22 to go in the third. The goal came man-down after a turnover and a fast break, and it meant that Princeton's man-down defense actually outscored Syracuse's extra-man offense. The Orange would go 0 for 4 on EMOs.

McBride started the scoring for Princeton four inutes in, and there would be three ties and no lead changes after that. Princeton led 5-2 at one point and 5-3 at halftime, but SU scored twice to tie at 5-5 to start the third quarter.

The Tigers answered with goals by McBride and Rob Engelke, who converted a quick stick after a feed from Scott MacKenzie, and SU would never tie the score again.

The Orange outshot Princeton 39-31. Stephen Keogh and Pat Perritt also scored twice.

Sgalardi, the reigning Ivy Player of the Week, had tow goals and two assists.

Syracuse leads the all-time series 16-9.