Fresh off a one-goal loss to No. 1 Maryland, the No. 6 Yale men’s lacrosse team looked to gain crucial early-season momentum against several unranked opponents before starting Ivy League play in two weeks. The opening game of this stretch came Sunday at Reese Stadium, where the Elis fell 9–6 to Bryant in their home opener.
The Battle of the Bulldogs was postponed from Saturday due to single-digit wind chills forecasted for gametime, and Bryant capitalized on the extra day of preparation. Sunday’s tilt was a tale of two halves: The Yale Bulldogs (1–2, 0–0 Ivy) jumped out to a 4–1 lead early in the second quarter, but the Elis’ clearing and faceoffs deteriorated as the game went on, and the Bryant Bulldogs (3–3, 0–0 Northeast) stifled Yale’s offense with their zone defense.
“It wasn’t a very good performance,” head coach Andy Shay said. “I didn’t think we shot the ball well. I didn’t think we responded well to their zone. They had an unbelievable game plan, and it worked out to a T. … We haven’t seen much of that six-man zone, and it gave us some fits.”
Yale dominated the first quarter across the board, outshooting Bryant 13–7 and earning the advantage in faceoffs and ground balls. The first goal came just a minute into the game during the Bulldogs’ first possession, when Eli midfielder Eric Scott ’17 drove from the goalie’s left and fired a shot straight into the back of the goal.
Less than two minutes later, Yale doubled its lead after attacker Ben Reeves ’18, back from a hamstring injury that sidelined him against the Terrapins, recovered a turnover and sent a pass from behind the cage to midfielder Brendan Mackie ’19 for the goal. With another successful shot from midfielder Joseph Sessa ’19, the Elis opened up the second quarter with a comfortable 4–1 lead.
However, trouble was already brewing for Yale in the early going as Bryant goalie James Werner made five saves in the first quarter. The junior, who had started just five games prior to Sunday’s matchup, finished the day with career-high tying 12 saves.
“[James] was certainly the difference,” Bryant head coach Mike Pressler said. “It was the best game he’s played in. … In our sport, that position is critical, and our guy rose to the occasion today.”
After an early-season injury kept Reeves off the field for all of Yale’s loss to the Terrapins last week, the Tewaaraton finalist and leading team scorer pestered Werner and the Bryant defense throughout the game at Reese Stadium.
Despite Reeves’ efforts, Bryant tied the game at four heading into halftime and kept the pressure mounting in the second half. Yale looked rattled from the opening faceoff of the third quarter; though midfielder Conor Mackie ’18 won six of 10 draws from the faceoff circle in the first half, he secured just one of nine down the stretch against Bryant’s Kenny Massa.
“I thought the effort was good today, but we didn’t execute on the [offensive or defensive] ends,” captain and defender Brian Pratt ’17 said. “Once we take a look at the film, we’ll know what we need to change, but right now, we just need to turn the page.”
Another major change between the two halves came in goal for Yale, as starting goalie Phil Huffard ’18 stood on the sideline for the bulk of the final 30 minutes after making three saves on seven targeted shots in the first half. Hoyt Crance ’19 replaced the junior in the second half but was moved back to the bench after giving up five goals on just nine shots.
After its first two games, Yale led the nation in clearing percentage, boasting a 0.967 mark. However, after going a perfect 12–12 in clearing attempts for the first three quarters of the game, the Elis only converted three out of seven clears in the fourth quarter. Turnovers on offense also plagued Yale throughout the game — in the fourth period alone, the Elis lost offensive control seven times.
“We got flat-out beat today,” Pratt said. “It wasn’t a great showing for us. With that being said, this stretch that we have is probably the biggest mental test. We have three games in six days [and] a chance to reset hard on Tuesday night, so we need to come to work tomorrow.”
The Elis return to action on Tuesday night when the University of Massachusetts, Amherst visits Reese Stadium. The opening faceoff is now scheduled for 7 p.m.