Even though the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team trailed Villanova 10-8 heading into the fourth quarter last week, Ryan Ambler and his Tiger teammates weren’t feeling any sense of panic.
“The coaches said keep fighting,” said freshman attacker Ambler, recalling the message the players received in their huddle after the third quarter of the March 5 contest.
“We were getting opportunities on offense. On defense, I thought we did a pretty good job. Villanova is a great team; they ran around and threw picks at us. They were pretty unconventional and I think coach [Chris] Bates said keep playing our game offensively, keep moving the ball and keep working off ball.”
In the fourth quarter, Ambler raised his game. scoring two goals in the first four minutes to spark a 6-1 Princeton run.
“I took my chances; I let the game come to me,” said the 6’1, 180-pound Ambler, a native of Rydal, Pa. who ended the game with five points on a career-best three goals and two assists.
“One time I had a shorty, they didn’t slide to me and I took my chance. On the other one, Jake [Froccaro] made a great play and fed it to me inside and I capitalized.”
For Ambler, playing in the same line with sophomore Mike MacDonald and senior Jeff Froccaro has helped his production.
“It is great; Mike MacDonald moves the ball really well and Jeff is a great veteran leader,” said Ambler of the trio which combined for nine goals in a losing cause last Saturday as Princeton fell 16-15 at North Carolina.
Both of those guys are dynamic as well as first line and second line middies. I think we can throw six, seven guys at people, maybe more. I think we are pretty dangerous. When we play together and work the ball, I think we are a very hard team to guard.”
Princeton head coach Bates, for his part, liked the way his team kept working in the win over Villanova.
“We stayed composed,” said Bates, who got three goals from Jeff Froccaro in the win with MacDonald, Kip Orban, and Jake Froccaro adding two apiece.
“Being down most of the game, I give our guys credit, we took the next step in terms of getting ground balls. We started to face off a little bit better and then offensively, we honestly felt like if we had the ball, we were going to be able to score goals.”
Putting Jeff Froccaro on face-off duty in the fourth quarter of the Villanova game turned the tide as he won 5-of-7 face-offs.
“We wanted to try to save Jeff, his knees are old,” said a smiling Bates of Froccaro, who went on to score four goals in the loss to North Carolina with MacDonald tallying five and junior star Tom Schreiber contributing four.
“Just tying the ball up and winning some forward, he gave us the ball and he gave us momentum. You could tell that was the difference in the game. We started to feel a little bit better offensively. We started to generate some shots and goals. We planned on not using him at all today. We were struggling so much there that we absolutely needed to get another look. Every time that kid gets into a game, he is a gamer, scoring big goals. He doesn’t always make the best decisions but I’ll take them.”
Bates certainly likes the game that Ambler has displayed so far in his freshman campaign.
“He is great; Ryan keeps making plays,” asserted Bates of Ambler, who now has 10 points on four goals and six assists for the 3-1 Tigers.
“He doesn’t back down from the stage. He shares the ball, he sees the field so well. Our guys love playing with him; he really makes us better. He finished some plays, he made some great feeds. They shorted him early which is a slap and he ran right by them. I give that kid credit. He had a whale of a game. He and Jeff were the differences really.”
Ambler, for his part, credits Bates, who coached his older brother, Colin, at Drexel, with paving the way to his sizzling start.
“He knows what he is doing when he is recruiting,” said Ambler, who will look to keep up his good play with sixth-ranked Princeton slated to host Manhattan on March 12 before playing at No. 13 Penn (4-1) on March 16 in the Ivy League opener for both teams.
“He brought me in, the transition has been pretty smooth with these guys. That is probably the best part, working on the chemistry with these guys.”