Saturday, May 20, 2006

LACROSSE SPECIAL: UMass upsets Hofstra

Forget N.C. State, the real cardiac kids are the Massachusetts Minutemen.

Against 6th seeded Cornell, the Minutemen were down 3-0 early. They battled back, tying and taking the lead late in the game to pick up the improbable 10-9 victory. Today it was deja vu all over again.

The 3rd seeded Hofstra Pride came into the game with the most wins in the country (17-1). The Pride looked to win the most lacrosse games in the history of the sport and got off to a good start when they too were up 3-0 in the first quarter. Tewaarton Trophy finalist Chris Unterstein proved his worthiness when he recorded his first of four goals with 8:20 left in the first quarter. However, just like last week, UMass responded with a two-goal flurry to end the first quarter only down a goal 3-2.

Unterstein responded with two consecutive goals. The second one resulted in an awkward fall afterwards, benching the star player for the remainder of the half with a bad headache. Mike Unterstein, Chris's brother took over where his brother had left off scoring his second goal and giving Hofstra a 6-2 lead.

Fellow Tewaarton finalist, UMass's Sean Morris scored his first goal with 7:51 to cut the deficit back to 3. Minutes later it was Jim Connolly, who finished with a game high 5 goals knocked in one to cut the gap to 2. However, Hofstra responded with a late minute goal to end the first half up 7-4.

UMass battled back quickly with a goal by Connolly in the opening minute of the second half off the faceoff. The Minutemen's victory started right at the X, where they dominated the faceoff circle. However, after cutting the gap back to two UMass could not make the next step. A costly crease violation, some uncharacteristic turnovers and the Minutemen appeared unable cut the gap further. A costly penalty on the Minutemen defense gave the Pride an EMO which they capitalized on. Moments later, Unterstein returned in the middle of the third quarter and less than a minute later he scored to give the Pride a 9-5 lead.

Both teams stepped up their defense and a long drought started until Joe Keysor rocketed in a shot with 9:46 to play to give the Hofstra Pride a 10-5 edge. The game appeared in hand, after all, the Minutemen would have to score in 9 minutes what they had in done in 3 1/2 quarters. The faceoff circle however proved to be the turning point to an amazing comeback.

After the timeout, UMass called a timeout a won the faceoff. Hofstra cleared but turned the ball over and Jamie Yaman scored his 15th goal of the season with 8:03 left.

Jake Deane won the next faceoff for the Minutemen and a key groundball gave Morris the edge and the goal to cut it to 3 with 7:27.

Another faceoff victory by Deane and it was Connolly scoring in less than a minute to cut it to 10-8 and completely turn the momentum upside down.

Hofstra called a timeout at 6:29 to try and calm nerves. UMass won the faceoff but the Pride defense held. Hofstra however was unable to clear in time and were forced to give the ball up. It took only 30 seconds for UMass to respond and score yet another goal. It was 4 goals in a span of 5:32.

UMass won the faceoff again! This time the defense once again held and Hofstra attempted to run the clock. An errant pass however showed how much momentum had changed. UMass got the ball back but Hofstra proved formidable again. However, a critical offsides mistake by Hofstra gave it back to the hot Minutemen yet again with 1:41 to go. The Minutemen picked up a key ground ball and with 49 seconds left it was Rory Pedrick, scoring just his 11th goal of the season to tie the game up and force a completely unexpected overtime.

In the extra session, Jake Deane won another faceoff for his Minutemen but they were unable to get the golden goal. Hofstra called a timeout with two minutes to go in overtime but Dan Whipple picked up the ground ball for UMass and was able to clear the ball, giving his team another chance. That was all they needed. Connolly took a strong feed from Brett Garber and capped off an amazing run when he scored with 1:53 on the clock. UMass won 11-10 in overtime. For UMass, it was an amazing finish, taking them to their first Final Four in school history. For Hofstra it was absolute heartbreak. A five goal lead with 9:46 to go was completely wasted away. The only team to beat Hofstra in the regular season did it again, and it was thanks to Jack Deane who won 20 of the 25 faceoffs in the game. The Pride had a chance to reach their first Final Four in school history, as well as winning more games in a season than any other team. Instead, they are left with disappointment. They remain unable to beat their rival UMass. Perhaps as disappointing as the faceoff circle was the inability of attacker Athan Iannucci to score a single point. Iannucci is the leading scorer in the country with a preposterous 83. However, when it mattered most he could only mount one missed shot and two ground balls.

UMass goes to Philadelphia next weekend and will play the winner of the Maryland/Princeton game who do battle this Sunday.


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