The Harvard women’s lacrosse team certainly has experience with close games.
In its first three matches, the Crimson saw two contests decided by one point, and Harvard dropped a one-goal game to Syracuse earlier this month before beating out Columbia by two goals last weekend.
Tuesday’s non-conference matchup against Stanford (7-2, 1-0 MPSF) at Harvard Stadium fit the pattern. Despite holding the lead for the majority of the game, the Crimson (5-4, 2-0 Ivy League) let up a goal in the final two seconds to lose by a single tally, 10-9.
“I thought we played hard,” head coach Lisa Miller said. “We combined well, we rode well, we played good defense. It was a tough one to lose.”
In the end, sloppy play and an inability to find consistency cost Harvard the result.
The Crimson committed 25 turnovers, the most it has given up in a single contest this season and twice its previous average of 12.5 per game. In a matchup that was defined by haphazard play from both sides, Stanford coughed up the ball an equal number of times.
Harvard was also plagued by foul trouble, registering 38 infractions, its second-highest single-game total of the campaign. Three of those fouls resulted in yellow cards, and the Cardinal scored on each of the resulting man-up opportunities.
The fouls and turnovers contributed to continuous back-and-forth play, with neither team able to hold onto possession for long. Five of the Crimson’s goals came on the break, immediately following Stanford turnovers or quick clear attempts by Harvard.
The volatile nature of the game was highlighted by a goal from junior attacker Eliza Guild.
Stanford was awarded a free position chance after a Crimson foul with 26:00 remaining in the second half. The Stanford shooter attempted to convert the opportunity three times and was fouled on each occasion, leading to three consecutive replays. On the final attempt, the Cardinal player blasted the ball over the net, and the resulting Harvard clear led to Guild’s score, just 20 seconds later.
Despite the Crimson skirting the free position goal, Harvard’s inconsistency and the back-and-forth style of the game were not reflected in the scoreline for much of the contest.
Stanford took an early lead, going ahead by a goal less than four minutes into the game.
Although the momentum seemed to belong to the Cardinal, senior attacker Marisa Romeo responded with a goal four minutes later to even the score.
Romeo’s score kicked off a run of three unanswered goals for Harvard, as sophomore midfielders Keeley MacAfee and Caroline Garrity each found the back of the net before a second behind-the-back finish this week from senior attacker Maeve McMahon extended the Crimson’s advantage to 4-1.
Stanford senior attacker Elizabeth Cusick snapped the Harvard streak with two goals in seven minutes, but Romeo and MacAfee each picked up a second finish to send the teams into the mid-way break with the scoreboard reading 6-3 in the Crimson’s favor.
A quick goal from the Cardinal inside the first three minutes of the second stanza cut Harvard’s favorable margin to two. However, Stanford’s wasted free position chance and Guild’s ensuing score, followed by Romeo’s third conversion of the game gave the Crimson its biggest advantage of the night at 8-4.
With 20 minutes remaining in the game, and Harvard’s lead seemingly secure, the team’s errors began to manifest themselves.
The Crimson committed 24 of its fouls in the second half, with two of the infractions drawing yellow cards and giving Stanford man-up chances. The Cardinal capitalized on both opportunities, scoring twice in a row to trim the deficit to 8-6.
With the momentum finally swinging in its favor, Stanford found the back of the Harvard net just 50 seconds after its second man-up goal, reducing the Crimson’s lead to one point.
Meanwhile, Harvard could not crack through the stifling Cardinal defense. The Crimson only managed five shots in the second period, compared to 18 for Stanford.
With Harvard’s attack severely limited, it was up to the team’s defense to try to weather the barrage of Cardinal shots. Junior goalie Meredith Brown made nine saves, including six in the second stanza.
“I think we played really well defensively,” McMahon said. “We forced them to make a lot of turnovers, and I thought our ride was really good as well.”
Brown’s heroics between the pipes wouldn’t be enough, though.
With just over six minutes left on the clock, Stanford tied the game. A minute later, the Cardinal broke through again to take the lead for the first time since it opened the scoring.
The Crimson pressed forward, looking for the equalizer, and was rewarded with just 25 seconds left in the game. McMahon collected the ball after a Stanford foul and powered a shot into the Cardinal net to drag Harvard level at 9-9.
The Crimson won the subsequent draw and pushed up the field but committed a turnover around the halfway line. Cusick ended up with the ball, which she snuck past Brown with less than two seconds on the clock to squash Harvard’s comeback attempt in heartbreaking fashion and earn her team the victory.
The Crimson has won just a single one-goal game to date, while dropping three in the early portion of the campaign.
—Staff writer Sam O.M. Christenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org