Mids squeak into final 4

6-5 victory over Cornell puts them in semifinals for first time since 1981

Navy overcomes 23 turnovers

Depth and defense make difference in second half

Ncaa Men's Lacrosse Tournament

May 24, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ITHACA, N.Y. - Navy's lacrosse team is going to a place it has not seen in 23 years, although the Midshipmen did little celebrating yesterday.

In the wake of a tense, 6-5 victory over Cornell before 11,480 at Schoellkopf Field in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal, a win that sends the Mids to their first final four since 1981, Navy survived more than it thrived.

Second-seeded Navy (14-2) never got comfortable, starting with the fact that it was playing on seventh-seeded Cornell's home field. The Big Red, which has ridden emotion as much as talent since March 17 - when senior defenseman George Boiardi died after being struck in the chest by a shot - forced enough turnovers and maintained enough possession time to negate Navy's trademark transition game.

On top of that, the Mids did not clear, move the ball or shoot it well; they missed the cage repeatedly and produced a season-low scoring output. But they had sophomore goalie Matt Russell (12 saves), a steady defense and a deep roster that allowed them to use 28 players in the stifling heat and humidity to gain some control of tempo in the second half.

The bottom line is Navy will face sixth-seeded Princeton in a national semifinal on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium because the Mids showed the toughness to beat Cornell (9-5) at its deliberate game.

"We're sitting in the locker room saying we're going to the final four and we've got some things we really need to work on," Navy coach Richie Meade said. "We know we can play better. That's pretty impressive.

"I'm not a guy to jump up and down. But it's reassuring to be able to win on their field with all the stuff that's going on. Cornell played the game they needed to play to win, and we didn't shoot the ball that well. I think it's a credit to us that Cornell couldn't beat us on their home field."

In 14 NCAA tournament games at home, Cornell has lost just twice - both to Navy.

Not that Cornell did not have a chance to pull a major upset. Backed by hundreds of fans who wore Boiardi jerseys, the Big Red played excellent zone defense and benefited from 23 Navy turnovers, including 15 in the second half and a huge unforced error with 3:47 left. That allowed senior midfielder Andrew Collins to cut the Navy lead to 6-5 with 1:57 left.

The Mids then threw the ball away after winning the ensuing faceoff and committed an offside penalty with 1:28 to go, putting Cornell in an extra-man situation for 30 seconds. But, just as the penalty expired, Navy defensive midfielder Dan Harris rejoined the defense and broke up a pass to create the game's key mistake.

Navy regained possession with 52 seconds remaining, then ran out the clock. The Mids, who got two goals apiece from sophomore attackman Ian Dingman and junior midfielder Graham Gill, overcame a sparkling, 14-save effort by Cornell freshman goalie Matt McMonagle.

"Our goal was to make it a 15-minute lacrosse game, to give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter. We did what we wanted to do," Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni said. "We couldn't crack their goalie."

"I thought the defense limited a lot of tough shots. My job was to come up with one or two big saves," said Russell, who had six stops in each half.

It was apparent defense would decide Navy's fate in the early going. The Mids barely had the ball in the first quarter, during which they committed five unforced turnovers. The Mids needed 19 minutes, 47 seconds to score the game's first goal, on an 8-yarder by Gill.

Navy fell behind 2-1 on back-to-back scores by the Big Red, but the Mids finally came alive offensively by scoring three unanswered goals in a span of 7:10. Bossi completed the run with an extra-man goal after an assist from attackman Jon Birsner to give Navy a 4-2 lead 57 seconds into the second half, but the Mids could not pull away.

Cornell 0 2 1 2 - 5

Navy 0 3 1 2 - 6

Goals: C-Greenhalgh 2, Collins 2, Nee; N-Dingman 2, Gill 2, Looney, Bossi. Assists: C-Pittard, Redd; N-Birsner 2. Saves: C-McMonagle 14; N-Russell 12.

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