The specter of last year’s season-opener against St. John’s loomed large over Reese Stadium as the fourth quarter began yesterday afternoon. But the Bulldogs scored three times in the first four minutes of the final period to snuff out another Red Storm attempted comeback, and to secure an easy 19-6 victory in their first game of the season.
“It was a little bit eerie, the same thing happened last year when we jumped out to a big lead,” defenseman Alex Moffit ’14 said. “At halftime there were definitely memories of last year’s game, and we said that we had to come out on fire in the second half and put them away.”
Attackman Brandon Mangan ’14 gave the Bulldogs a comfortable 12-5 lead with 30 seconds remaining in the third, but when St. John’s midfielder Harry Kutner’s running, 15-yard shot went in with four seconds left in the quarter the momentum on the field subtly shifted. Suddenly both teams were reminded of the five straight goals the Red Storm scored in the final period of last season’s meeting, which turned what should have been an easy victory for the Bulldogs into a tense two-point win.
The Elis were determined not to let that happen this time. Midfielder Cole Yeager ’13 won the opening face off of the fourth quarter and less than two minutes later midfielder Ryan McCarthy ’14 dodged from behind and found midfielder Matt Miller ’12, who buried his attempt from 10 yards out. A minute later when attackman Conrad Oberbeck ’15 cut towards the goal and scored on a pass from Shane Thornton, the wind droped right out St. John’s sails. St. John’s frustration was evident when Red Storm defensive midfielder Mark DiFrangia was sent to the penalty box for a late hit after Mangan’s goal with 11:17 remaining gave the Elis a commanding 15-6 lead.
Mangan and fellow attackman Matt Gibson ’12 paced the Bulldog offense with four goals and five points apiece. Gibson spent most of the afternoon spinning and tiptoeing his way around the St. John’s crease and had several attempts that missed the net by inches. He and Mangan were helped out on the attacking side of the ball by McCarthy, who wreaked havoc behind the St. John’s net and finished with one goal and three assists.
“We really played the Yale style of lacrosse that is always preached to us,” Miller said. “We won the ground ball battle, we got open shots, and we finished them. We got the ball back quickly whenever we lost it.”
The Elis also dominated at the face-off x with their midfield pair of Yeager and Dylan Levings ’14 combining to win 17 of 28 face offs. Their efforts helped Yale control possession and keep St. John’s high-powered offense quiet.
The Bulldogs’ defense was also on point in its first game of the season and held the Red Storm scoreless for the first 20 minutes of the game. St. John’s starting trio of attackmen, which last week accounted for nine goals against Holy Cross, was held to only one on Saturday. The Eli defense also forced eight turnovers and was led by defenseman Michael McCormack ’13 with four caused turnovers.
“One point of focus in practice this week was communication, and we did a really good job of doing that well and playing together as a unit,” Moffit said. “We were also ridiculous on ground balls, any time the ball hit the ground it was ours.”
The Bulldogs opened the scoring four minutes into the game on an isolation play for midfielder Greg Mahony ’12. Mahony dodged from up near the midfield line and moved the ball to McCarthy, who found Miller open from eight yards out. Miller buried his shot in the back of the net for the first goal of the Elis’ 2012 season. Yale went on to score five more goals before St. John’s finally got on the scoreboard with a man-up goal half-way through the second quarter.
Miller said the team has been waiting all year to clinch a victory in its first game.
The Red Storm, their coaches and their fans all took their frustrations out on the officiating crew throughout the game. The home team was only flagged for four penalties to St. John’s eight, although the Bulldogs also spent about twice as much time on offense as their opponents. The visitor’s emotions reached a peak with 12:15 left in the third quarter when Red Storm defenseman Kevin Cernuto was flagged for a slash and yelled at the official, provoking another one minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Yale promptly capitalized on the extra-man opportunity as Mahony rifled a shot past St. John’s goalie only a few seconds after the restart.
Saturday’s contest was also the first collegiate start for freshman goalie Eric Natale ’15. Natale was rarely tested thanks to the Bulldog’s aggressive defense and efficient ball-control and finished with two saves before being taken out for Jack Meyer ’14 with 2:40 remaining in the game.
The Bulldogs are home next weekend to play Albany in a 1 p.m. game on Saturday.