Playing its first road contest of the season Tuesday afternoon, the Yale men’s lacrosse team faced a pair of daunting opponents: the Red Storm of St. John’s and the snow storm which left the field coated in white for the game’s final three quarters.
Despite these challenging conditions, however, the Bulldogs once again prevailed. Attackman Jeff Cimbalista ’17 scored just 14 seconds into the overtime period and Yale took down St. John’s by a final score of 11–10.
When the Bulldogs (4–0, 0–0 Ivy) took a 7–5 lead into the halftime locker room and entered the fourth quarter leading 9–7, overtime seemed like a faint possibility. But the Red Storm (1–4, 0–0 Big East) had other ideas, scoring two consecutive fourth-quarter goals to tie the game at nine. Following a Conrad Oberbeck ’15 score to re-take the lead, St. John’s tied the game at 10 on a strike with only 26 seconds remaining to set up overtime.
Despite that late goal, Yale managed to dominate the brief extra period. The quick passing and teamwork that has allowed the Bulldogs to shine offensively this season was most notable in the game’s final seconds.
“We got a big face-off win, James Tjarksen [’15] got a ground ball and pushed transition,” midfielder Michael Bonacci ’16 said. “Jon Reese [’16] made a great skip pass to the back side to Jeff Cimbalista, who had a big finish … Players came up big when they needed to, especially Cimbalista at the end.”
Oberbeck continued to be the leading offensive contributor for the Bulldogs, scoring another three goals to give him a team-leading 14 scores on the year so far. His goal in the second quarter moved the senior attackman past Adam Puritz ’88 into second all-time on Yale’s career goal-scoring chart. Cimbalista also added two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist, continuing his excellent sophomore season.
The rest of the team’s goals came from a variety of sources. The Elis got two scores from midfielder Michael Keasey ’16 and one from attackman Ben Reeves ’18, giving him eight on the season. Additionally, midfielders Eric Scott ’17 and Jason Alessi ’18 picked up where they left off against Bryant, adding a goal each.
All in all, though, the heavy snowfall turned the game into a sloppy dogfight for possession and left both teams struggling to complete a successful string of passes. Although the call was made to switch from the traditional white ball to a neon orange ball midway through the game, visibility issues plagued both teams in their attempts to maintain a cohesive offensive game plan.
“This was probably the first time that any of us played in a snow storm. It makes things different, footing is … a little bit of a curveball,” defenseman Michael Quinn ’16 said. “The end of the game was maybe the craziest two minutes of lacrosse I’ve ever seen.”
Despite the conditions, goalie Eric Natale ’15 turned in a stellar performance, making 11 saves against the Red Storm attack. Bonacci credited Natale for playing through the snow, which he termed as “every goalie’s nightmare.”
In addition to the contributions of Natale and Oberbeck, several other Bulldog seniors turned in stellar performances, providing the team with much-needed veteran experience in the face of its first significant adversity of the 2015 season.
In particular, Tjarksen and defenseman Alirio DeMeireles ’15 grabbed two ground balls each to help the Bulldogs maintain ball control in the back-and-forth contest. One of Tjarksen’s ground balls, notably, came just prior to the game-winner for Yale, and DeMeireles caused a key turnover in the game’s final minutes that kept St. John’s from setting up an important offensive possession.
“[DeMereiles] is a guy who finally got a job to break through into the lineup this year … he grew up in the program and he’s gotten better every day, and he was a vital part of our defense today,” Quinn said.
Despite the excellent undefeated start, the close call today reminded the Bulldogs that they still have room for improvement.
Entering Tuesday’s game, the Bulldogs were just sixth in the Ivy League in caused turnovers per game and fifth in save percentage.
“I know nobody’s satisfied with four wins,” Scott said. “We need to keep working hard to get better.”
The Bulldogs return home Saturday for their final game before the beginning of Ivy play, facing in-state rival Fairfield University. The game begins at 1:30 p.m. at Reese Stadium.