Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Best Goal Ever, Or Second-Best Of The Weekend

Brody Merrill's 85-yard goal against Rochester 
Olivia Hompe's last-second goal against UMass

TigerBlog isn't sure what the best lacrosse play he saw last weekend was.

He can say three things with total certainty though:

1) it wasn't in one of the eight NCAA men's games he saw
2) he hasn't seen too many better plays
3) if it happened at the end of a championship game, it would go down as one of the greatest plays ever

The two candidates are Brody Merrill's 85-yard shot in a Major League Lacrosse game and Olivia Hompe's buzzer-beater to force overtime for Princeton's women in their NCAA opener.

Let's start with Merrill's shot.

TigerBlog was on Game 4 of the first day of the NCAA tournament last Saturday, and Notre Dame was comfortably ahead of Air Force. It had been a long day of watching college lacrosse on TV - and his phone, for the first game, between Maryland and Quinnipiac, while he was at the Ivy League baseball championship series.

So, he figured, he could see what else was on. And what did he find?

Major League Lacrosse. How lucky was he?

Anyway, he went from the college game to the pro game, between the Rochester Rattlers and the Boston Cannons. The matchup meant three Princeton alums were in the game - Boston goalie Tyler Fiorito, Boston defenseman Chad Wiedmaier and Rochester middie Kip Orban.

By the way, Boston's next game is against the Ohio Machine, with two other Princeton alums, Tom Schreiber and Mike MacDonald. Schreiber leads MLL with 15 assists; no other player has more than 10. Fiorito is again among the league leaders in goals-against and save percentage.

Anyway, as Air Force-Notre Dame wasn't that close, TB stayed with Rochester-Boston. He's sort of glad he did.

As it turned out, Rochester led by two with a little over a minute to play and possession of the ball. There is a 60-second clock in MLL, and the Rattlers took it all the way down before throwing it into the corner behind the goal. There were 3.3 seconds to go.

As a lacrosse field is 110 yards x 60 yards and the goal is 15 yards from the end line, Boston now had to go 85 yards. On the other hand, there's also a two-point shot in the league, so the game was not out of reach, even if it seemed completely implausible that Boston could make it happen.

Merrill, who played collegiately at Georgetown and is the best longstick midfielder TigerBlog has ever seen, picked the ball up and winged it down the field. By the time the camera caught up to it, the ball was in the goal. And the Rochester goalie was there the whole time.

How is that even possible? If TigerBlog gave Merrill 100 chances to do it again, even without the goalie, how many times would he succeed?

If that had been the end of an NCAA men's championship game (one-goal game, forcing OT), it would be universally called the greatest play ever.

It might have been the best play of the weekend, though. Olivia Hompe's goal against UMass at the end of regulation might have been better.

Princeton and UMass played a great game in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last Friday in Ithaca, with eight ties and nine lead changes. It was tied into the final minute when UMass scored what figured to be the winning goal with 14.6 seconds to play.

Princeton, though, wasn't done.

Amanda Leavell won the draw and was fouled, forcing a restart with 8.3 seconds left. After a Princeton timeout, Leavell threw it to Eileen McDonald, who lofted the ball towards the goal.

TigerBlog, watching the videostream, thought for a minute that McDonald's throw had a chance to go in on its own. Instead, Hompe caught it and scored, with 0.8 seconds left.

A few things on Hompe's play:

1) just catching the ball in the first play was an incredible play
2) it's possibly that the goalie was thinking that McDonald's pass was headed to the goal and had to adjust once Hompe caught it
3) TB isn't sure how Hompe kept her balance
4) her shot was perfect
5) her reaction was better

There is a one big difference between Merrill's goal and Hompe's goal. Both were incredible. Both forced overtime.

Only Merrill's team won. Princeton fell 13-12 to UMass, ending its season. UMass then turned around and beat Cornell in the second round to earn a quarterfinal date with Maryland this weekend.

Hompe went on to be named first-team all-region for the second time, following up on her second unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection. She had a team-best 59 points this season, with 47 goals and 12 assists.

She will enter her senior year 11th all-time at Princeton with 175 career points, including 123 goals.

TigerBlog hasn't seen them all, but his sense is that none of them were more amazing than the one with 0.8 seconds left against UMass.

It might have been the best single goal he's ever seen.

Or maybe just the second-best one from the weekend.

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