With only five minutes remaining in the Harvard men’s lacrosse team’s game against Princeton, the Crimson held on to a 9-8 lead by only a thread.
Before the game clock hit zero, the Tigers were able to get off a series of relatively open shots, but all went wide or hit the posts as the Harvard defense scrambled. Finally, with only 1:18 remaining, Princeton sophomore midfielder Jake Froccaro attempted what he hoped would be a game-tying goal. Instead, junior goaltender Jake Gambitsky saved the shot and the game for Harvard, as the Crimson (8-5, 4-1 Ivy) was able to beat the Tigers (7-5, 2-3) to the sideline and eventually clear the ball.
With seven consecutive goals in the first period, Harvard dominated the start of the contest before almost succumbing to a strong second half surge by Princeton. With the victory, the Crimson clinched a spot in the Ivy League postseason tournament.
“We came out on fire,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said. “But as Princeton started chipping away at the lead and as the game got closer, I was most proud of how the team kept its composure and poise and managed to finish a close game.“
The Tigers made it on the board first, with a goal by junior midfielder Kip Orban following what was the first of three straight faceoff wins for Princeton to begin the game.
But the Crimson answered with force. First, sophomore midfielder Sean Mahon nailed a shot after simply running past his defender, tying the contest. Harvard then took the lead when sophomore attackman Deke Burns caught a wild shot and quickly found sophomore attackman Devin Dwyer for a wide-open goal.
Next, sophomore midfielder Brendan Newman beat his defender in the middle of the field and buried a diving shot straight into the upper-right corner of the goal. Senior attackman and co-captain Peter Schwartz rounded out the quarter for the Crimson with another goal, putting his team up, 4-1.
However, the score discrepancy at this point did not represent the true balance of the game. The Harvard defense had given up several relatively easy shots to the Tigers, but other than the first attempt, each was turned away by Gambitsky.
“Jake played an exceptional game,” Wojcik said. “He didn’t just make saves, he made big saves. And those were really what let us build up our lead.”
In the second quarter, the Crimson began to dominate across the field. The team limited its turnovers, secured 75 percent of the ground balls in the quarter, and outshot Princeton, 13-3. Freshman midfielder Austin Williams won all five faceoffs in the second quarter, and went 13-of-19 over the course of the game.
And the goals just kept coming.
Following a Tiger penalty, Harvard capitalized on the man-up opportunity as Schwartz assisted sophomore attackman Will Walker for a goal. Senior attackman Carl Zimmerman then extended the lead, weaving through the Princeton defense until he got off a diving shot just before falling into the crease. Next, Schwartz found Dwyer creeping around the goal for an easy tally, giving Harvard the 7-1 lead.
Sophomore attackman Ryan Ambler scored for the Tigers off of a broken play, bringing the half to a close with the Crimson leading, 7-2.
“We came out really strong,” Schwartz said. “There was a lot of emotion playing on senior night at home, and all of the guys really came to play.”
Princeton came out of the break looking to close the gap, and Orban and Ambler each scored again, 38 seconds and five minutes into the half, respectively.
Sophomore defenseman Stephen Jahelka answered for Harvard, dodging a defender and driving to the goal for his first score of the season. However, Ambler followed the sophomore’s play with a goal of his own, bringing the game into the fourth quarter with Harvard’s advantage reduced to 8-5.
The bleeding continued as Princeton senior midfielder Tucker Shanley scored, cutting the lead down to just two. Once again, the Crimson answered, this time with another goal from Zimmerman. But goals from Princeton’s Froccaro and junior attackman Mike Macdonald narrowed the home team’s advantage to just one.
But Harvard refused to allow another goal and eventually managed to pull out the win.
“We showed resilience today,” Schwartz said. “Princeton is obviously very skilled, but we felt like we could outwork them. We have a group that is able to take advantage of our ability to out-hustle our opponents, and we really did that today.”
—Staff writer Theo Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.