Monday, May 22, 2017

High Drama In State College

TigerBlog is more a fan of comedies and musicals than he is of dramas.

In his perfect world, people find themselves in stressful situations - and either make a joke or launch into song. It's the right way to handle things. When the other gang is staring you down, what are you going to do? Fight - or stare right back and sing "when you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way?"

Either that, or get the Corleone family or the Soprano family involved, but that's only in extreme circumstances.

When it comes to shows, TB only wants to go see musicals. Why walk out of the theater pondering the dark realities of the world when you can sing instead?

Looking for drama this past weekend as 16 Division I lacrosse teams chased the eight spots available to them at Gillette Stadium? You had to follow the women then. The men didn't really give you much.

All of the drama that was missing in the NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinals could be found on the women's side.

While the four men's games were all basically done by halftime, three of the women's games were epics.

In fact, through the first 13 games of the tournament, only one had been decided by one goal and the rest were all by three or more. The average margin of victory before the Final Four has been a little more than six goals. In the four quarterfinal games, it was more than seven, and it wasn't worse than that only because Syracuse (lost 10-6 to Towson) and Duke (lost 16-11 to Ohio State) scored some late goals to make their final scores a little closer.

The four men's winners this weekend were dominant from start to finish, especially Denver face-off specialist Trevor Baptiste (21 for 22, 13 ground balls, one goal, only one turnover, completely ripped the heart out of Notre Dame in a 16-4 win).

Before TB gets to the women, he just wants to say that neither Princeton nor Denver had ever won an NCAA tournament game (one single game) before Bill Tierney became the head coach at both. For Tierney, this coming weekend will be his 15th Final Four in the last 29 years.

That's insane.

As for the women, there was Maryland, the top seed and heavy favorite who had to make a shocking rally to defeat a Stony Brook team who came in with all the confidence in the world before falling short 13-12. There was Navy - Navy?  - yes, Navy, who stunned the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels 16-14. This is the same Navy team that had raised eyebrows by upsetting Penn in the first round, let alone North Carolina.

Boston College beat USC 20-14, a score that made TB wonder if Boston College had ever beaten USC by that score in football (it hasn't).

And that left the final game of the women's quarterfinals, yesterday afternoon, between fifth-seeded Princeton and fourth-seeded Penn State.

Princeton had gotten to the quarterfinals by beating Cornell last weekend, giving Princeton three wins in three tries against the Big Red. Penn State, Princeton's quarterfinal opponent, had beaten the Tigers 13-8 back in March.

Could Princeton defeat a team it had already lost to after beating another team a third time?

The answer would be no, but not for lack of effort.

Penn State would win the game 14-12 to advance to the Final Four, but Princeton did not go away quietly. This was a great game from start to finish, a game that featured athleticism, competitive fire, tension throughout, nine ties, seven lead changes, neither team ever able to lead by more than two and more than anything else great goalie play on both end of the field.

In the face of two teams who were relentless and desperate to score each time they could, Princeton's Ellie DeGarmo and Penn State's Cat Rainone combined for 29 saves, many of them that were jaw-dropping.

DeGarmo, the first-team All-America, was particularly incredible, as again was her defense. There were so many times that Penn State shooters appeared to have lanes to the goal, only to have those lanes close before a good shot could be attempted or to have DeGarmo come up huge again and again.

DeGarmo came up huge the last few weeks, with 15 saves against Cornell in the Ivy League tournament final two weeks ago to earn MVP honors, 15 more against the Big Red in the NCAA opener and then 16 yesterday against Penn State.

For the season, that added up to 235 saves this season and 544 for her career. Her career total is fourth-best in program history; the 235 this year are the program record for any season.

Unfortunately, those numbers will not be changing.

It's the harsh reality of this time of year for college lacrosse players. It ends, and it almost always ends sadly.

The difference between Princeton and Penn State yesterday was slight. The difference between the prize is extraordinary.

For Penn State, it's a return to Championship Weekend, with a chance to take on Maryland in Game 1 before BC-Navy in Game 2 Friday at Gillette Stadium.

That will be Friday, the first of four days that will see eight games played there, with the Division women's and men's semifinals and championship games and the Division II and Division III men's finals as well.

For Princeton, it's the end of a season that saw the team spend pretty much all year in the Top 10, with some really good regular season wins, a share of the Ivy League regular season title and then the Ivy tournament championship that left little doubt who the best team in the league was.

For Chris Sailer, the Tiger head coach, it was the latest in a series of great seasons with great teams at Princeton. Already a member of the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Sailer still has the same fire that drives Tierney. It's about the next year, not about what you've done to this point.

In the meantime, it had to be a tough ride home for Princeton. The Tigers came close and competed hard, leaving it all on the field, as they say.

Unfortunately, sometimes you do all that and the other team still wins.

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