For the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team, losing 9-8 at Harvard last Saturday was a punch to the gut.
Falling behind 7-1, Princeton made a valiant rally but came up short in dropping to 7-5 overall and 2-3 Ivy League. The defeat coupled with wins by Cornell and Penn knocked Princeton out of the four-team Ivy tournament contention, putting a big dent in any hopes the Tigers have of making the NCAA tourney.
In reflecting on the setback, Princeton head coach Chris Bates didn’t mince words. “It was a devastating loss, we just didn’t do everything we needed to win the game,” said Bates. “We were solid everywhere; we just didn’t solve their goalie.”
A nightmarish first 21 minutes ultimately doomed Princeton as it trailed 7-1 with 9:06 left in the first half. “We got a goal early and then they capitalized on every mistake that we made,” said Bates.
“We had chances but I give their goalie (Jake Gambitsky) a lot of credit, he was lights out and stole a lot of goals. We dug too big a ditch to get out of. We hit a lot of pipes, it was just one of those games. Unfortunately it came at a bad time.”
For the rest of the game, Princeton had the upper hand, outscoring the Crimson 7-2.
“We settled down,” said Bates, who had three goals from Ryan Ambler and two tallies from Kip Orban in the defeat with goalie Eric Sanschagrin making 13 saves. “We played 39 minutes of good defense where we gave up just two goals. On offense we were pretty good. We got plenty of looks, but we hit plenty of pipes.”
Over the course of its Ivy campaign, Princeton has hit a roadblock in tight games, losing three one-goal contests, falling 16-15 to Yale and 11-10 to Brown in addition to last Saturday’s nailbiter.
“In the close losses, we haven’t had the ball a lot,” said Bates. “We haven’t faced off well in those games. The theme is if we have to play a lot of defense with our young guys back there, we make mistakes.”
With No. 20 Princeton ending regular season play by facing 12th-ranked Cornell (10-3 overall, 4-1 Ivy) in Bethpage, N.Y. this Saturday, Bates believes his squad has plenty to play for, including a potential at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA tourney in view of wins over a trio of nationally ranked teams, No. 11 Hofstra, No. 8 Penn, and 18th-ranked Lehigh.
“It is Cornell and we are not going to lay down for them,” asserted Bates. “We feel like something is still on the line in terms of the NCAAs. It is not a 50/50 chance but nothing stands out about the others and our numbers are not bad. We need Hofstra, Penn, and Lehigh to do well. We still have a puncher’s chance and we are going to keep punching. We know it is a long shot but if we beat Cornell, I will be interested to see our numbers and RPI (Rating Percentage Index).”