Going into this game, it was nearly impossible to know what to expect in this lacrosse matchup between Cornell and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights had the better record overall, but this was a rare time when two teams were meeting in the national semifinal from different conferences, but had a whopping six opponents in common through the season, including both playing Ohio State twice. Even with all those common opponents, Rutgers had just a single win more than the Big Red (against Army), and in terms of margin, they were pretty split for the other games where they both won. So this was a great example where things would truly need to be determined on the lacrosse field, and it would likely be a pretty close game between Cornell and Rutgers.
The game started somewhat slow as both teams were testing each other other out in settled offense without getting too risky. There was a sense that Cornell was prodding a little bit more and trying to see where they may be able to win a matchup or find a promising angle. However it was still Rutgers that would open scoring up with a Mitch Bartolo dodge, taking advantage of a poorly timed over the head check and getting a nice bounce shot inside the crossbar. From there, the rest of the quarter was all Big Red.
That early testing of the defense would turn into some great solo efforts from John Piatelli and CJ Kirst, which started opening up some more inside looks that they were not able to take advantage of. They had set themselves up as being a threat from multiple players in multiple spots on the field to keep the Rutgers defense on their heels for the rest of the game. While each team was given a chance to covert a 30 second man up opportunity in the waning minutes, neither did and Cornell went into the first break up 3-1.
Just like in the first, Rutgers opened the scoring of the second quarter, but this time it was their best inside look of the game. Coming from behind the goal, Shane Knobloch found Brian Cameron on the doorstep for an easy catch and shoot to pull the Knights within one. Then, just like in the first, Cornell answered with two unassisted goals, still without a single player getting a second point. They were just reinforcing that everyone in their offense was a threat, but that was where the similarities started to end.
Rutgers turned back to someone familiar, Mitch Bartolo. He took a shot from the top of the box to add one to the board, prior to a trio of Big Red goals. Two off broken clears and one off a substitution with a full head of steam. Going into the half, it was 8-3.
The story of the first half? It was really two things. Cornell was able to really dictate their offense for the entire half which is a huge advantage in lacrosse. They were winning their dodges, their ride was aggressive, and were able to find the open guy repeatedly for good looks off the pass. Defensively, it was all about the takeaways. Rutgers went into the half with eight turnovers, five of which were at the hands of the Big Red. If things were going to turn around, the Scarlet Knights were going to have to become much more physical on defense to drive Cornell where they wanted them, and they really needed to take care of the ball more all over the field.
The biggest surprise happened at halftime: a prolonged weather delay (nearly 4 hours) kept both teams in the locker rooms for an extended halftime. This has always been a wildcard for teams since sometimes is can spark a comeback or cause another team to fall apart if they’re hot. The question would be: what would happen this time?
Interestingly enough, Rutgers started the second half with a much more aggressive defense, forcing Cornell to turn it over on a shot clock violation and then going down the field to score on their first possession off a another catch and shoot on the doorstep, this time by Ryan Gallagher off a Ross Scott feed. These first three minutes made it look like Rutgers figured out what they needed to change from the first half to make a run. As it turns out, they did not.
Cornell responded with a six-goal run, including two identical fast break goals from Piatelli. Basically, everything that went Cornell’s way in the first half was repeated and improved. They started winning the physical matchups despite Rutgers playing very aggressive defense all over the field. They capitalized every time Rutgers threw the ball away or dropped a key pass. Everything in the third quarter was going the way of the Big Red as they built a commanding lead of 14-5 going into the final quarter.
Rutgers started feeling the urgency of the situation once the fourth quarter rolled around. Not only were they quicker to strike, but they actually started converting their opportunities on offense. Their two goals to open the fourth were separated by less than a minute, by far the closest their scoring had been all day. But from that point on, Cornell went into clock killing mode. They took the clock all the way to six minutes before getting the ball back on a bad clearing pass, allowing them to milk the clock all the way to 4:33 before they even took a shot, which also happened to go in (Kirst from Piatelli), to bringing the lead up to an even 10, 17-7. While Rutgers did get a few late strikes, it was too little too late and the final wound up being 17-10.
So where does this leave Cornell? Should they wind up facing Maryland, they definitely won’t see the same types of opportunities they had against Rutgers. The broken clears, dropped passes, and unforced turnovers are not part of the Terps’ MO. Any win there would likely be a grind. Should they wind up facing Princeton, we don’t have to look too far back in the season to see what may happen. In Cornell’s final lacrosse game of the regular season, they won the matchup against the Tigers 18-15. So regardless of the second semifinal’s outcome, you can definitely look forward to a good one on Monday!