The Harvard men’s lacrosse team (10-5, 5-1 Ivy) secured a berth in the Ivy League Championship game with a win over rival Yale (9-5, 3-3) in the tournament’s semifinal game Friday night in Harvard Stadium.
This marked the second one-goal win over the Bulldogs in as many weeks for the Crimson. The team’s last four games have all been decided by only one point, three of which resulted in victories for Harvard.
The Crimson defense has now allowed 10 goals or fewer in its last six games, as Harvard and Yale entered the fourth quarter tied 8-8. From there, the Crimson defense effectively shut the Bulldogs down.
With 3:14 remaining in the game, the Yale offense was scrambling, desperately trying to score and keep its season alive. Harvard junior goaltender Jake Gambitsky waited for the right moment, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, sprinted out of the goal to intercept a pass.
After clearing the ball past the mesmerized Bulldog attackmen, the Crimson looked to control possession for the remainder of the game. It seemed like Harvard might walk out with a two-goal victory, until a fan threw a football onto the field.
It was an impressive throw, making it all the way from the crowd into the center of play. It was also a disgraceful and reprehensible act of disrespect by a spectator that nearly cost the Crimson the game.
Harvard was assessed a non-releasable one minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, meaning that the team was essentially to play down a man for the remainder of the game, simply for being the home team. Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ‘96 was then given a second penalty for arguing the penalty, putting the Crimson down two men for the rest of the game. 51 seconds is more than enough time to score two goals with a 6-4 manpower advantage.
A series of missed shots and Gambitsky saves ensued, before Yale could finally narrow the lead to one. However, many precious seconds had passed at this point, and the team was down to just 0:08 on the clock, just enough time to score off a quick faceoff win.
Enter senior midfielder and faceoff specialist, Gabriel Mendola. Mendola was called twice earlier in the game for withholding the ball at the bottom of two of the rugby-style scrums that ensued on many of the restarts, but as the senior lined up with both of his wing midfielders in the penalty box, such a delay was exactly what Harvard needed.
Mendola managed to box-out Yale’s Dylan Levings just long enough to prevent the Bulldogs from getting a real shot off, preserving the win for the Crimson and keeping his team’s NCAA tournament hopes alive.
Harvard will face Penn in the championship game Sunday at noon. The last time the two teams met, the Quakers won in Philadelphia inudden death overtime, 8-7.
The winner of Sunday’s championship game will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as the Ivy League representative. Win, and you’re in.
However, if the Crimson loses on Sunday, things become more complicated.
There are eight at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, given out according to a combination of criteria that includes the RPI computer polls, as well as consideration towards bad losses and victories over top-ranked teams.
It is very likely that the Ivy League, one of the top conferences in the country for lacrosse, would have two teams in the field.
Right before the Harvard-Yale game, Penn defeated traditional powerhouse Cornell 11-10. This dropped the Big Red to 11-4 on the season. Cornell will likely be ranked in the top 10 teams according to the computer polls, which would make it a bubble team with a strong candidacy. The Big Red shared the regular season Ivy Leauge title with the Crimson.
Harvard, on the other hand, would likely be ranked between 10 and 15 in the computer polls, mostly due to unfortunate losses to UMASS and Albany early in the season when the team was playing without First-Team All-Ivy League sophomore attackman Devin Dwyer, as well as to Duke and UNC later in the season.
When the two teams met in early April, however, the Crimson dominated Cornell 14-9 with an 8-3 surge in the second half. It is difficult to tell whether the NCAA selection committee would put the Big Red in over the Crimson, considering the result of that game and Harvard’s advancement to the final of the conference tournament, but many people still believe that Cornell is in, regardless of the loss.
The only sure way for the Crimson to make the NCAA tournament is to win on Sunday.
—Staff writer Theo Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.