March 10, 2012

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Minus Star Matchup, Virginia Beats Cornell in Overtime

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Related: Live Blog Replay

Chris LaPierre had six ground balls for top-ranked Virginia in a hard-fought 9-8 overtime win over Rob Pannell-less Cornell on Saturday at the Face-Off Classic. The Big Red rallied from three down in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

BALTIMORE — A game billed in the preseason as pitting the nation's top two players and leading Tewaaraton Award candidates — Steele Stanwick and Rob Pannell — on the same stage didn't go according to plan.

But top-ranked Virginia's thrilling 9-8 overtime victory over No. 3 Cornell — the second game of Saturday's Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic — was anything but a letdown. The announced all-day attendance of 17,138, most of which had settled in for the day's headline matchup, were treated to a dandy.

"Great lacrosse game. Two great teams battling the whole time," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia.

Said Cornell coach Ben DeLuca: "An incredibly exciting game."

It just didn't follow the scheduled storyline. Then again, when does anything in lacrosse go as anticipated? "I don't think at the beginning of the year anyone expected to be playing without Rob Pannell, but we find ourselves in that situation," DeLuca said.

Pannell, Cornell's star attackman and the No. 1 overall pick in the MLL Draft, spent Saturday strolling the sidelines at M&T Bank Stadium on a scooter. He is out indefinitely — possibly six weeks, possibly more — with a left foot injury. And Stanwick, the reigning Tewaaraton winner, was slowed in the second half while fighting a hip bruise that left him gimpy. He wore an ice pack on his left hip after the game and walked with a slight limp, though he said he should be fine.

Still it was only fitting that, in the game's biggest moment, Stanwick helped set up the game's biggest goal. With the score tied at 8 in overtime, Stanwick took a pass behind the cage from junior attackman Matt White, who drove from the high wing. Stanwick quickly surveyed the defense and nailed fifth-year senior midfielder Colin Briggs, cutting in front off a pick. Briggs did the rest, and Virginia improved to 7-0. Cornell falls to 3-1.

"Matt White made a great move on the wing," Stanwick said. "I kind of caught my guy cheating on the strong side, so I faded to the back side. Matt hit me in stride. Colin backed over his guy on the crease, and I led him. He made a great play to tap it in."

Said Virginia coach Dom Starsia: "We got a nice little two-man play with Steele and Matt behind the goal. Matt drew that double and got his hands free enough to be able to give the ball to Steele, and he found Colin. To be honest, I didn't see who caught the ball on the inside. But give Matt a lot of credit for initiating the play, putting the ball in Steele's hands so he could scan the field and find somebody open."

Without Pannell, this was Saturday's main focus: Who would step into Pannell's shoes and emerge as the attack's main feeder and finisher? It's a question Cornell will continue to answer over the coming weeks, but the Big Red looked like they won't have much difficulty generating offense without their quarterback and senior captain.

Relying on a grinding, rotation offense, Cornell took 35 shots and received goals from six different players, headlined by the play of junior attackmen Steve Mock and Connor English, who scored two goals each.

"We demonstrated a tough and gritty style of lacrosse," DeLuca said. "We really tried to play as fast as we could and get up and down the field and play a Cornell style. For the most part, we did that."

English, a spring transfer from Virginia playing against his former team Saturday, might stand to benefit most from Pannell's absence. DeLuca said English "provided a major spark," as he scored back-to-back goals within 20 seconds to turn an 8-5 game midway through the fourth quarter into a one-goal deficit.

Virginia seemed to have the game in hand before English struck twice — the first of which came on a step-down shot high-to-high, the second on a sprint along goal-line extended.

"Connor did a great job. He's evolving as a player. He's done a wonderful job," DeLuca said. "He's bought in the whole way. We're trying to bring him along gradually, and the injury to Rob forced our hand a little bit. He's capable of doing that. We were thrilled for him.

"I can't say enough about the way he has meshed with our team. The way that he's come and instantaneously become a member of our junior class and this family. Connor is a very respectful young man. He works extremely hard. He's yes-sir, no-sir, and very coachable. That's why we love him. He's definitely found his home here."

After English's pair of tallies, Cornell junior midfielder Max Van Bourgondien tied the game at eight with 28 seconds remaining in regulation. Van Bourgondien jumped in the air and banged a rebound home off a shot from the left alley that Virginia goalie Rob Fortunato couldn't corral.

"He was in the right place at the right time, and probably by design in terms of the balance of our offense," DeLuca said. "It's just a big-time play by a big-time player in that situation."

Stanwick, who finished with one goal and three assists, had a chance to score the game-winner at the end of regulation but was denied on the near pipe by Cornell sophomore goalie Andrew West, who had nine saves.

Virginia won the overtime period's only faceoff but went offsides, immediately handing the ball to Cornell. But while Cornell settled for a shot, Steve Mock dropped an easy exchange pass from Van Bourgondien. Bobby Hill scooped up the loose ball and took it into the Cavaliers' offensive end, where Starsia called timeout to draw up his final play.

With 1:35 remaining in sudden-death period, Briggs buried the quick-stick past West.

Briggs, along with sophomores Rob Emery and Mark Cockerton led Virginia with two goals apiece, while McWilliams and fifth-year senior attackman Chris Bocklet each added one goal. Chris LaPierre had a team-high six ground balls.

For Virginia, Saturday's win capped a five-game, two-week stretch that also included a game against Syracuse. The nation's top-ranked team is battle-tested.

"I thought [Cornell not having Pannell] actually made our job a little tougher with him going down," Starsia said. "It was hard not to be let down a little bit that he wasn't playing. For us to think, 'Huh. We're undefeated, the No. 1 in the country, and now Pannell is not playing.' I felt like we had to fight through that emotionally, and be prepared to play.

"We've played a lot of lacrosse over the last two weeks; I would not have allowed that to be used as an excuse, but we also talked about the fact that I thought this was going to be the toughest game of the stretch that we've just gone through. It played out just like that."

"This is one of those wins that will hold up over the season," he said.


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