Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scott Bacigalupo, Hall-of-Famer

TigerBlog flipped on the TV at about 5:40 yesterday afternoon hoping to catch a few minutes of PTI.

Instead, he found a commercial, which of course means changing the channel to see what else is out there. He made it one channel over, to ESPN Classic, which was showing of all games the 1989 Princeton-Georgetown NCAA tournament game.

Every time TB watches that game, he's left with the same thoughts: 1) Princeton had the game won, 2) the offense that now has been copied and spread through all levels of basketball was still unique to Princeton back then, 3) Pete Carril was wearing the blue sweater he always wore back then, a sweater with a little hole from a cigar that happened to be in the exact spot that the orange basketball was on the white Princeton shirt he wore underneath it, giving off the impression that the basketball was on the sweater, 4) Kit Mueller was a great player, 5) those uniforms remain TB's favorite that Princeton has had and 6) that group of players was the first that TB got to know here.

Watching that game had already taken TB back to 1989 and the years that followed shortly afterwards, and so the email he received around the same time announcing Scott Bacigalupo's selection to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame fit right into the moment.

If Kit and the rest of that group had been the first Princeton basketball players TB had gotten to know, then Bacigalupo was part of the first group of lacrosse players.

TB's association with Princeton lacrosse dates back to Bacigalupo's senior year at St. Paul's in Baltimore. The 1990 season was the first one in which Princeton played in the NCAA tournament, and it was clear that the program was on the rise.

And, for that entire spring, all anyone could talk about was the incoming class, led by two can't miss prospects.

The first was Kevin Lowe, an attackman who would go on to become the all-time leading scorer in Princeton history with 247 career points. Lowe, one of the greatest feeders of all-time, was part of the 2009 class at the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

The other was Bacigalupo, whose Hall-of-Fame selection was probably inevitable ever since he walked on campus, or at the very latest when he made 15 saves in a 15-10 win over Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field on March 2, 1991, in his first appearance as a Princeton player.

He would go on to start all 60 games Princeton played in his career, the only goalie in school history to do so (current goalie Tyler Fiorito has started every game his first two years). Princeton would go 52-8 in those 60 games while winning the 1992 and 1994 NCAA championships, both of which saw Bacigalupo earn Most Outstanding Player honors.

When Cornell's Max Siebald (Class of 2009) became the first four-time first-team All-Ivy League men's lacrosse selection, TigerBlog thought there should have been a giant asterisk next to his name. Not to take anything away from Siebald, who clearly deserved all four honors, but it was Bacigalupo who should have been the first four-time first-teamer.

Bacigalupo was a first-team selection three times - as a freshman, sophomore and junior. His senior year? Second team. Why? Because one coach, in an effort to get his player to be first-team, did not vote for Bacigalupo as first- or second-team.

And what ended up happening a few weeks later? Bacigalupo, the second-team All-Ivy League goalie, was named the Division I National Player of the Year.

Bacigalupo probably got over that a long time ago. TigerBlog? No.

Lacrosse was a new sport to TigerBlog when he first watched those Bacigalupo-Lowe teams play. TB's first "favorite player" was attackman Justin Tortolani, who predated the other two by two seasons at Princeton and who today is one of the top pediatric surgeons in the country.

It was obvious from the start that Bacigalupo and Lowe were something special, even to TB's untrained eye. TB was impressed with Lowe's ability to see the field and make ridiculous passes and the calm demeanor he carried with him at all times.

As for Bacigalupo, TB always thought of him as having a big dog guarding the front door of a house. He could bite, but his bark was usually enough to scare away the average shooter.

Bacigalupo could make saves, he could carry the ball, he could trigger fast breaks. More than any of that, though, and with apologies to everyone else in that group, it was clearly his team. He played with charisma. He was in charge at all times, and everyone knew it.

Princeton has had a goalie make 15 or more saves in an NCAA tournament game 11 times, and five of those 11 were from Bacigalupo. He made 19 saves against North Carolina in the 1992 semifinals on a 100-degree day in Philadelphia, and he made 15 more in the final against Syracuse two days later, when the temperature had dropped about 50 degrees.

Princeton went 7-2 in NCAA games during his career and he was spectacular in all of them, even the two he lost. He made 17 saves against Syracuse in the 1993 semifinals, and that was nothing compared to his 20 saves against Towson in the 1991 quarterfinals at Palmer Stadium.

Towson would win that game 14-13 in three overtimes, scoring off the face-off to start the third OT. After that game, Bacigalupo vowed that he would never lose another overtime game - and he didn't, going 5-0 in OT after that, including the 1992 and 1994 finals.

As TB wrote when it was Lowe's turn last year, TB was still at the newspaper for the 1992 and 1994 championships. In his preview for the 1994 final, TB wrote that Princeton would win and that Lowe and Bacigalupo would both be in the Hall of Fame.

Certainly there are others on the way in the near future. Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess and Ryan Boyle are total locks to get there. Some others, such as Chris Massey, Matt Striebel and Trevor Tierney, have a shot.

For Lowe and Bacigalupo, there was never any doubt.

These two are among the greatest of the greatest, and it was obvious from Day 1.

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