West Point – Is it possible that the Army men’s lacrosse team actually gained some respect in college lacrosse circles with their nail-biting 11-10 loss to Cornell at Michie Stadium Saturday?
Will the NCAA gods, who determine what at-large teams make their 18-team tournament in May, look at the fact that No. 7 Army played the No. 6 ranked Big Red to essentially a draw for all but nine seconds of the game before Cornell’s Aiden Blake slammed in the game winner from about 10 feet out in the waning seconds of the contest?
And, will they also consider other factors, such as a power outage that impacted the entire West Point campus with about eight minutes left in the game? After a 15-minute delay, both head coaches and the game officials decided that they would keep the time by hand, which certainly created some confusion on both sides of the field, and in the stands, in terms of how much time was left on both the shot and game clocks.
Or, will they consider a controversial out-of-bounds call with about 1:20 left in the game that was ruled in Cornell’s favor, much to the chagrin of the Army bench and many fans sitting nearby who were certain the Army player was closer to the sideline when the ball went out? The ruling allowed Cornell to set up for its game-ending shot.
“It was really a tough loss and we really wanted this one and it would have been a huge confidence booster for us,“ said Paul Johnson, Army’s junior forward who scored four goals, including three in a row to put the Black Knights ahead 10-9 with 7:36 left in the contest. “But now it is on to the next one (arch-rival Navy next Saturday night) and we cannot underestimate them. There will be a big crowd there and it is a different environment.”
Even with the non-conference loss to Cornell, Army still controls its own destiny and that elusive NCAA tournament bid. The Black Knights, now 9-2 overall, are still in first place in the Patriot League with a 6-0 record with two difficult league games ahead—Saturday night against tough, but inconsistent, Navy and the following Friday night at home versus Boston University, now in second place.
The winner of the Patriot League tournament gets an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament and, while Army officials don’t want to discuss anything else, there is a concern that the NCAA will not take more than one Patriot League team again this year. Last year, Army finished 13-4 winning at both Syracuse and Cornell during the regular season. But, the Black Knights lost to Boston University in the finals of the Patriot League tournament and did not receive at at-large bid.
A crowd of more than 4,000 fans saw a defensive struggle from the start, with Cornell holding Reese Burek and Evan Plunkett to no goals and Jacob Morin to just two scores. Army defense did the same to CJ Kirst, Cornell’s big gun and the nation’s leading scorer entering play on Saturday, keeping him off the scoreboard for the entire contest.
Still some sloppy play by the Black Knights early in the game helped Cornell grab a 3-0 lead. Army managed to tie it at halftime, 5-5, but Cornell stopped the Black Knights in the third quarter, holding them to just one goal in the period to take a 7-6 lead entering the fourth quarter. Going into the game, Army had outscored its opponents, 40-11, in the third quarter.
Cornell took a 9-7 lead in the fourth quarter, but the scores by Johnson gave Army their only lead of the game, 10-9. Cornell’s Michael Long scored with 3:32 left to tie the score at 10-10.
“I felt like it was a real heavyweight battle,” said Army coach Joe Alberici. “Our guys were terrific in quarters two through four. A little slow start. Would have like to see improvement in our ground ball, missed some chances that turned into possessions for them.
“What a battle. And, there were a lot of positives. Paul Johnson was fantastic in the game. AJ Pilate did such a great job on CJ Kirst, one of the nation’s finest players. We battled right to the end. It was a difficult ending to a great game.”