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After the Harvard men's lacrosse team lost to Brown last Wednesday night, 21-16, afficionados of the squad became skeptical.
They wondered if goalie Chris Miller was really the sieve (Twenty-one goals!) that the drunken Brown fans said he was. They questioned the Crimson defenders' ability to protect the crease.
Above all, everyone seemed to doubt that a team that lost by five goals to Brown could pose a strong challenge for an Ivy title. Especially since the Bruins had lost their previous two Ivy contests to Princeton and Yale--the next two opponents on the Crimson's league schedule.
Everyone doubted, that is, except for the players themselves.
And with cool reserve Saturday, an emotional Crimson squad handily defeated Princeton, 12-6, at rainy Ohiri Field. While the Tigers came to Cambridge confident that they could beat Harvard, the Crimson (8-1 overall, 3-1 Ivy) took an initial 5-0 lead and never looked back.
"They took us out of the game early and we didn't have the emotion to get back in it," Princeton Coach Bill Tierney said.
Harvard's victory sets the stage for its matchup next Saturday against undefeated Yale in New Haven, a game which in all likelihood will determine the Ivy champion. Suddenly, a Harvard team that was not expected to be too much of a force this season is in a position not only to obtain an NCAA tournament bid, but to finish on top of the strongest league in Division I lacrosse.
It didn't take long for the Crimson to turn the skeptics back into optimists Saturday behind an early offensive surge by Co-Captain Mark Donovan. The senior midfielder netted two-thirds of his team-leading hat trick in the first quarter, twice beating Princeton goalkeeper Jim Ardrey after breaks down the right side.
But it was the Crimson defense that really shined on this rainy day.
Miller was all confidence, recording 18 saves in a brilliant perfor-mance that should silence sieve chants forever. And for most of the afternoon, long-stickers Chris Bentley and the Murphy brothers--Mike and Dennis--prevented feeds to Tiger crease strongman Justin Tortolani, who was also held at bay by Dan Berkery.
"We shut off the crease really well," Donovan said. "We kept it packed in and played great team defense."
Talented Crimson attacker Mickey Cavuoti made the score 4-0 when one of three Tiger defenders checking him near the crease accidently knocked the ball out of his stick and into the goal. Cavuoti then fed room-mate Tim Reilly near the crease for a lay-up goal to open second period scoring.
While Princeton's ball-control offense attempted to lull the Crimson defense to sleep, the Harvard long-stickers played like they were wired on No-Doz. Except for a brief second-period lapse, Harvard's defense was ruthless in winning ground balls stuck in the thick Ohiri mud.
Despite controlling the ball for the overwhelming majority of the second period, the Tigers only managed three first-half goals. Tortolani and Chris McHugh each had a goal and an assist as part of a Princeton come-back that cut the Harvard lead to 5-3 at halftime.
In the second half, the Crimson midfielders consistently beat their men, forcing the Tiger defense to slide in adjustment. The slides enabled the middies to find open shots, or easy dishes to men around the crease.
"Our midfield could handle the slide very well," Harvard Coach Scott Anderson said. "Once you get by the slide, it gets wide open."
Donovan opened the third quarter with another high shot past Ardrey after another break down the right side. Reilly then received a dish from Co-Captain middie Perry Dodge at the crease, for his second lay-up of the afternoon, and a 7-3 Harvard lead.
After Tortaloni took the fourth-quarter opening faceoff and fed McHugh to cut the lead back to three goals, the Crimson rattled off three straight goals. Two rifling shots by Harvard leading scorer Dave Kramer paced the rally.
Although two Tiger breakaway lay-up goals past Miller kept Princeton within reach, an off-balance floating shot by Cavuoti just beat Ardrey and iced the Harvard win.
"It sets us up for all the marbles on Harvard-Yale, which is the way it should be," Harvard attacker Chip Linehan said.
Crimson, 12-6 at Ohiri Field Princeton 0-3-0-3--6 HARVARD 4-1-2-5--12
Goals: P--Chris McHugh 2, Ed Calkins 2, Justin Tortolani, John Kenney; H--Mark Donovan 3, Tim Reilly 2, Mickey Cavuoti 2, Dave Kramer 2, Perry Dodge, Paul Faust, Chip Linehan.
Assists: P--Tortolani 2, McHugh 1; H--Dodge 2, Cavuoti 2, Donovan.
Saves:P--Jim Ardrey 7; H--Chris Miller 18, Dan Chepaitis 1.
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