Friday, April 11, 2014

The Pre-Tournament Begins

TigerBlog isn't sure if Tuesday night's Princeton-Lehigh men's lacrosse game was the most exciting in Division I this season or just the second-best one played that day.

If you thought Princeton's 10-9 double overtime win over Lehigh was wild, what with the whole tying it with 2.7 seconds left in regulation and all, how about the Sacred Heart-Holy Cross game? Sacred Heart trailed 11-3 in the fourth quarter - the fourth quarter - and then ripped off eight goals to tie it and before winning 12-11 in overtime.

So what's better, a relatively unheard of comeback or a game that goes to two overtimes without ever having either team lead by more than one?

In the case of Princeton's game against Lehigh, the score was tied at 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8 and finally 9-9.

Getting to 9-9 wasn't exactly easy.

Princeton trailed 9-8 with 1:10 to go, Lehigh with the ball, out of a timeout. TigerBlog always thinks the team with the ball in that situation hurts itself by calling timeout, since the defense can come out the timeout ready to pounce on the ball, rather than scrambling while play is ongoing.

In this case, the Tigers doubled the ball and trapped it in the corner, gaining possession and clearing it to Tom Schreiber, whose shot was saved by Lehigh's outstanding goalie Matt Poillon. The game might have been over there, except that Poillon's outlet pass shorthopped its target near midfield, allowing Schreiber and Will Reynolds to converge and get it back. Schreiber's next shot hit a foot in front of the goal and bounced back near midfield, where Mike MacDonald picked it up and got it to Kip Orban, who beat Poillon and the clock with 2.7 seconds to spare to send it to overtime.

And then another overtime.

And then Schreiber got the ball free about 10 yards in front of the goal after slipping a screen and, well, he was never going to miss from there. And he didn't.

For Princeton, it was a great win. Hopefully for the Tigers it doesn't become the highlight of the year.

With three weeks to go in the regular season, Princeton is trying to make its push for the two big tournaments, first the Ivy League one and then the NCAA one. This weekend starts the three-game pre-tournament.

The schedule has Princeton at home tomorrow (1) against Dartmouth, a team that beat the Tigers in Hanover 10-9 last year in a game that did a great deal to haunt Princeton come NCAA selection night.

Next week is a trip to Harvard, who just happens to be the last unbeaten team in Ivy League men's lacrosse. And then it's off to Long Island to take on Cornell in what is called the Battle of Bethpage April 26.

Right now, Harvard is 3-0, followed by Cornell at 2-1, Penn and Yale at 2-2, Princeton and Brown at 1-2 and Dartmouth at 0-3. This weekend starts the sorting out, with Yale at Brown tonight and Harvard at Penn tomorrow, in addition the Tigers and Big Green and a non-league game of Cornell and Hofstra.

It's actually tough for a Princeton fan to know which teams would help the Tigers by winning. Princeton obviously wants Lehigh to win out and at least get the Patriot League final against Loyola.

Princeton has already beaten Penn and Hofstra, so the better they do, the better Princeton's win is. On the other hand, a Penn loss to Harvard means Princeton's win isn't as good as it would be if Penn keeps winning, but it could help Princeton get into the Ivy tournament and make a potential win over Harvard be better should the Tigers pull that off next week.

The same logic applies to Hofstra-Cornell. The win over Hofstra gets better with a win over Cornell; a Cornell win gives Princeton a top 10 or even top 5 opponent to go against on Long Island. 

And it's probably better for Princeton if Brown beats Yale, since Yale figures to be battling Princeton for an at-large NCAA bid should neither get the NCAA bid. But then that all depends what would happen after that, as Brown still has to play Cornell and Yale still have to play Harvard.

Princeton can solve all of its own problems by winning out.  It desperately needs a win against Dartmouth after a season where two wins (Hofstra, Manhattan) were followed by two losses (Hopkins, Carolina) and then two more wins (Penn, Villanova) and then two more losses (Yale, Brown) and now two more wins (Rutgers, Lehigh).

Princeton has never lost consecutive games to Dartmouth and is 30-1 all-time in Princeton against the alma mater of head coach Chris Bates.

That game is not the only home event this weekend.

The men's golf team hosts the Princeton Invitational tomorrow and Sunday, and there is home women's tennis against Harvard (tomorrow) and Dartmouth (Sunday), home men's and women's track against Monmouth, St. John's and Vermont (fairly random group) and men's lightweight rowing against Cornell.

By the way, speaking of golf, TigerBlog hasn't played since 2000 or so, but he'd like to get out at least once this summer. He's adding that to his other goal of catching a fish.

It's still spring, though. It's actually early spring, but time is running out on the lacrosse season.

The game Tuesday was a great one. The one tomorrow is a huge one, the first of at least three in a row.

Princeton is hoping for much more than that.

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