Senior Alex White, No. 11 above, was named to the preseason All-NEILA team and scored a team-high three goals in the season opener against UMass on Saturday. The unranked Crimson fell to the No. 7/5 Minutemen on Soldiers Field Lacrosse/Soccer Stadium, in part due to a scoreless second period.
The Harvard men’s lacrosse team outscored UMass in the final two frames and held even with the Minutemen in the first. But that was not enough to knock off the No. 5/7 team in the county.
A 4-0 surge in the second quarter propelled UMass (3-0) to an 8-6 victory in the Crimson’s season opener at Soldier’s Field Lacrosse/Soccer Stadium. Harvard (1-0) edged the Minutemen in the second half, 4-2, but could not close the gap.
“I thought we played very hard, tough, and physical lacrosse,” Crimson coach Chris Wojcik said. “Overall, I thought the effort was incredible. But the execution in the middle of the field and, at times, in the offensive end, wasn’t good enough to beat a great team.”
Harvard senior midfielder Alex White led all scorers with a hat trick.
“Al played really well all day,” Wojcik said. “He did a great job exploiting match-ups, [and] he did a great job generating really good shots.”
UMass jumped out to a 2-0 lead three minutes into the game with a pair of unassisted markers from Matt Whippen and Grant Whiteway. But strikes from White and senior attacker Jack Walker allowed the Crimson to draw even before the end of the first period. Harvard goaltender Harry Krieger made five of his game-high 13 shots in the opening frame.
“[Krieger] has really stepped up,” White said. “He’s bailed us out a lot, really kept us in that game. He’s been playing really well. Hopefully, he doesn’t have to bail us out every game. He’s a good player; it’s nice having that back there.”
The second quarter proved the difference as four different UMass scorers found the back of the net. Sean Cleary and Kyle Smith opened up the period’s scoring for the Minutemen with strikes less than a minute apart. Junior attacker Connor Mooney provided UMass a 6-2 lead with just over a minute left in the half. On the other end, UMass redshirt freshman Zachary Oliveri made three of his eight saves of the game.
“They really controlled the play in that second quarter. Their goalie made a few big stops and kind of stymied our momentum,” Wojcik said. “And they had great possession time. They capitalized on their chances, and we didn’t.”
Harvard challenged the Minutemen down the stretch as the Crimson defense limited UMass to only one goal per period in the second half. In the first minute of the third, Ryan Stevens skipped a shot between the legs of Oliveri.
“We had a really good scout on them,” White said. “I think our intensity and effort was there on defense, and we had a good plan.”
The squads traded punches as UMass’s Andrew Sokol responded a minute and a half later with a spinning shot at the top of the box, drawing a body check infraction from Robert Dunjvak in the process. But, shorthanded, the Crimson found the net 35 seconds later as White bounced another five-hole shot across the goal line.
“All I wanted to do was to kill the penalty so we could get back to even,” White said of his man-down strike. “But I looked in the middle of the field and the whole defense was kind of looking the other way.”
In the fourth, the Crimson drew within two goals off of a third, unassisted tally from White. Wippen scored his second goal of the match with 5:36 left in regulation to put the Minutemen up, 8-5, but Harvard countered 36 seconds later with a man-up goal from senior attacker Henry Mumford.
The Crimson managed only one more shot in the final five minutes of play as UMass dominated possession down the stretch. The Minutemen effectively navigated the newly-implemented stall rules, maximizing the 30-second shot clock and avoiding turnovers.
With just over a minute left, a push from Harvard captain Jason Gonos put the Crimson a man down, and UMass eased its way to victory.
“It was difficult for us to extend there once we were a man down,” Wojcik said. “So we were really chasing from there,”
UMass has now won 17 straight regular season games in a streak that dates back to April 2011.
—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mdledecky.