A back and forth battle between Yale and Syracuse came down to the final minutes to determine who would advance in the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament. With 2:09 remaining, the Orange scored to clinch the 11–10 win and secure a trip to Delaware for the quarterfinals.
After thrilling one-goal defeats of both Penn and Brown during the Ivy League Tournament, the Yale men’s lacrosse team became the 2017 Ivy League champions on Sunday, May 7 and punched its ticket to the Big Dance. In the opening round however, the Elis could not produce a win against No. 2 seeded Syracuse, a team led by a trio of unstoppable seniors: midfielder Nick Mariano, midfielder Sergio Salcido and goalie Evan Molloy.
“[Molloy] was great,” head coach Andy Shay said. “He had 15 saves and that’s hard to overcome.”
With the loss, Yale fell in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.
The Orange (13–2, 4–0 ACC) had not lost a game between Feb. 25 and the last weekend in April, when it fell to No. 18 University of North Carolina during the semifinal of the ACC Tournament. Looking to avenge its lost ACC title, Syracuse beat Colgate in its final regular season game and entered Sunday’s contest against Yale (10–6, 5–1 Ivy) ready to prove itself as one of the nation’s top teams.
The Elis, led by two-time Tewaaraton finalist attacker Ben Reeves ’18, also came into Sunday’s matchup revved up, and the energy between the two teams was evident the minute the Bulldogs entered the stadium. Players from both sides got in each others’ faces and exchanged banter before ultimately heading to their respective sidelines as the game neared.
Midfielder Brendan Bomberry of Syracuse scored the first goal of the day just over a minute into the game but the Bulldogs answered a few minutes later in their favorite way: a goal from attacker Matt Gaudet ’20 off an assist from Reeves.
Both Syracuse and Yale’s hot-headed entrances manifested themselves in four penalties for each team throughout the contest, and the teams traded goals and player advantage opportunities for the remainder of the first half. As the clock wound down in the second quarter, the Bulldogs enjoyed a two goal lead and had outshot the Big Orange, 28–10.
This offensive control was in large part thanks to midfielder Conor Mackie ’18 who had one of his best performances all season in the faceoff X. First-Team All Ivy honoree Mackie won 82 percent of his faceoffs on the day and four out of four in the second quarter alone.
“[Mackie] was fundamental and he stuck with his fundamentals all day,” Shay said. “He’s one of the best faceoff guys in the country when he does that. He was very diligent. I’m proud of his effort.”
During the third quarter, however, the Orange outperformed the Elis in virtually every aspect of the game. The team found its stride offensively and outshot the Bulldogs 12–8 after taking relatively few shots for the entirety of the first half. Although Mariano and other Syracuse offensive players tallied 5 goals to put themselves ahead 9–8, it was really the team’s defenses that decided the third quarter.
Three Yale turnovers gave the Orange ample opportunities to score on goalie Phil Huffard ’18, who struggled to record just five saves during the contest after averaging a respectable 49.8 save percentage throughout the season. After attacker Jack Tigh ’19 was assessed a one minute penalty for cross checking, Syracuse took advantage of having an extra player on the field and scored again.
“We made some stupid plays in the middle of the field,” Shay said. “The turnover on the clear was pretty bad. I didn’t feel like we were making smart plays with the ball and they capitalized on it.”
Although the outcome was ultimately not what the Elis had hoped, the team had one of its strongest performances of the season in many aspects. Freshmen attackers Gaudet, Lucas Cotler ’20 and Jackson Morrill ’20 all finished their debut seasons with incredible performances and recorded goals during the matchup. Fellow rookie defender Aidan Hynes ’20 pressed his opponents on defense all day and proved once again that he is capable of guarding the top attackers in the country.
Midfielders Eric Scott ’17, Jason Alessi ’18 and Joe Sessa ’19 also played consistently and aided Yale’s offensive efforts with Alessi recording four ground balls and Sessa with a goal and two ground balls. Finally, Reeves showed the nation why he is the only returning Tewaaraton Award Finalist this year. Not only did Reeves lead his own team in scoring by way of four goals and two assists, he had the most points of any player during the game. In the fourth quarter, the Macedon, New York native broke Yale’s 27-year-old school record for total points scored. The junior still has an entire season ahead of him to improve upon this mark.
“Ben was great,” Shay said. “He’s our best player and leader and I thought he had a good day. He was patient, he showed his speed today. I was really proud of his effort.”
Although this game marked the end of the 2017 Yale lacrosse season, the team returns all but two of its starters for next year and is undoubtedly looking ahead to improving in both the regular season and the NCAA tournament.
Matthew Mister contributed reporting.