Last season, the Yale men’s lacrosse team saw seven of its 16 contests determined by a single goal, and the pattern of hard-fought games continued in its 2018 season opener as the No. 5 Bulldogs fell 10–9 in an overtime nailbiter against No. 15 Villanova.
After a second-quarter comeback erased an early three-goal deficit, Yale (0–1–0, 0–0–0 Ivy) battled back and forth with the Wildcats (2–0–0, 0–0–0 Big East), but after gaining a two-goal lead with 9:34 left, the Bulldog offense sputtered and Villanova forced overtime. Wildcat attacker Danny Seibel, who scored four goals on the day, rifled home the overtime game-winner with 20 seconds to play and sealed the Elis’ fate.
“We didn’t play our best,” midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20 said. “We have a lot of improvement to do all over the field. Our defense did a good job against Villanova [because] their offense is really talented and holding them to nine goals in regulation is a solid effort.”
For the second straight year, the Bulldogs opened their season against Villanova. The Wildcats had already upset a nationally ranked team with a 17–16 victory over No. 12 Penn St. and came in looking to avenge last season’s 16–11 defeat to Yale in Philadelphia.
The rematch occurred in foreign territory for Division I lacrosse, as the two teams flew to Dallas to play in the Dallas Cowboys’ billion-dollar, 12,000-seat practice stadium. The game headlined the Patriot Cup, an event designed to promote lacrosse in Texas.
Yale jumped out to an early lead when captain and attacker Ben Reeves ’18 notched the first of his four goals on the day, under two minutes into the start of the game. Villanova attacker Christian Cucinello, the team’s leading returning scorer, responded moments later with an unassisted finish to spark an unanswered four-goal run for the Wildcats. The offensive surge included two consecutive tallies from rookie midfielder Colin Crowley to open up the second quarter and give Villanova a 4–1 advantage over the Bulldogs, the largest lead either team held in the game.
Midway through the second quarter, Yale found its bearings as Cotler fed the ball to attacker Jackson Morrill ’20, who fired the ball past Villanova goalie Nick Testa. Just two minutes later, midfielder Jack Tigh ’19 added to Yale’s momentum with an unassisted goal. After Seibel and Reeves both found the net late in the second, the Bulldogs entered the locker room trailing 5–4.
“Entering the second half I think we became much more accustomed to [Villanova’s] motion,” defender Jerry O’Connor ’18 said. “[Their offense] was pretty random and fast paced in the first half.”
Led by Reeves, Yale dominated the third quarter in every aspect of the game. The Macedon, New York native scored two more goals just 52 seconds apart to hand the Elis their second lead of the afternoon. At the other end, Yale’s defense, led by Christopher Keating ’18, played its best stretch of the game, holding Villanova to a lone goal and allowing the offense to take control.
After the two Wildcats headed to the box for illegal body checks eight minutes into the quarter, Yale’s power play took advantage as Reeves found attacker Matt Gaudet ’20, who notched his first goal of the game to make the score 7–5. In response, Cuccinello scored his second unassisted goal of the game with roughly six minutes left in the third moments before Tigh buried a pass from Reeves to give the Elis a two-goal lead going into the fourth.
After Yale answered a quarter-opening salvo from Seibel to make the score 9–7, the Elis wilted as the Wildcats dominated the rest of the game. The Bulldogs lost all four faceoffs in the final frame, which gave the Villanova offense a platform to mount its comeback.
With the score knotted at 9, the Elis had a chance to clinch victory in the final seconds of the game when Reeves bulleted a pass to Gaudet, who was stationed at the edge of the crease. His effort agonizingly sailed a few inches wide of the cage to send the game into overtime.
Both teams wasted their first possessions in overtime, but Villanova made no mistake with its second chance. Midfielder TJ Comizio sent a pass to Seibel who whipped a rocket past Eli goaltender Jack Starr ’21 with just 20 seconds left on the clock.
Reeves dominated the offensive scoresheet for Yale with seven points. On the defensive side, Keating tallied a game-high nine ground-balls and forced three of the 16 Wildcat turnovers while Starr made his collegiate debut starting in goal and made eight saves. The Elis have little time to dwell on the loss as they return to Reese Stadium to continue their season with a contest on Saturday.
“This week, we’re focusing on ourselves and getting back to our fundamentals,” midfielder Brendan Mackie ’19 said. “Every game is an opportunity to get better.”
The Elis will host Michigan in their home opener on Saturday at noon.
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