STATE COLLEGE, Pa. —The last time Penn State lacrosse made the NCAA Tournament, it came to a heartbreaking end at the hands of an Ivy League school. That is the exact fate the Nittany Lions tried to avoid on Sunday, facing the Princeton Tigers in the NCAA Tournament’s first round. Penn State is awfully familiar with the ins and outs of Ivy League lacrosse, facing three Ivy opponents this season, and beating them all. Princeton, however, is a school the Lions have struggled with, having never beaten the Tigers. After facing an early deficit, Penn State roared back to beat Princeton 13-12, and will face Army in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals next weekend for the right to go to the Final Four.
Sluggish start for State
Penn State has been no stranger to slow starts this season. The Lions have often been able to rally for epic comebacks, but falling behind in the NCAA Tournament is not a recipe for success. Alas, Penn State had another one of its patented sluggish starts. Princeton netted two goals on their first possessions to take a 2-0 lead within the game’s first five minutes.
Sophomore goaltender Jack Fracyon would make an impressive save on Princeton’s next possession, giving Penn State a spark. The Lions would draw a penalty, and sophomore midfielder Ethan Long scored on the man-up to cut the Tiger lead to 2-1. But the spark wouldn’t last long as sloppy play led to turnovers, resulting in two Princeton goals to extend the Tiger lead to 4-1 at the end of the first quarter.
Lions claw back
The second quarter didn’t start much better for Penn State, with Princeton scoring on their first shot, making it a 5-1 game in favor of the Tigers. Princeton added two more goals en route to a commanding 7-1 lead.
Penn State finally snapped its scoring drought when Long potted another to give Penn State a faint glimmer of hope. Then the Lions got a stop that allowed them to open up their transition offense, where junior midfielder Mark Sickler ripped one home. Shortly thereafter, senior attacker T.J. Malone scored and brought the Nittany Lions back within three.
Princeton responded with an impressive crease dive goal to make it an 8-4 game. But Ethan Long didn’t take long to get it right back to a three-goal deficit with his third of the night, a hat trick. Senior attacker Jack Traynor finally got on the board to make the game 8-6 and get Panzer Stadium rocking. Princeton quelled the momentum with a goal of its own with just a minute left to reclaim a three-goal advantage, which the Tigers took into the halftime locker room.
Penn State lacrosse explodes in the third
The second half started with both teams playing at a sluggish pace. Both sides had a few turnovers, and each goalie easily handled anything thrown their way. Penn State got the first break of the quarter when it drew a slashing penalty, and senior attacker Kevin Winkoff scored on the manpower advantage, allowing the Nittany Lions to pull the game within two.
A faceoff violation gave Penn State another possession. Ethan Long wasted no time scoring his fourth goal of the night, which cut the deficit to 9-8. This was the first time the game was within one goal since the score was 2-1. Penn State’s offense stayed hot, and sophomore midfielder Matt Traynor got the game back to even for Penn State.
Then Long, who only had 11 goals in the regular season, decided he wasn’t done yet. He added a fifth tally to give Penn State its first lead of the night at 10-9. Malone added his 100th career goal around 30 seconds later to grow the Nittany Lion lead to two. The quarter ended, mercifully so for Princeton. The Tigers failed to record a goal in the third quarter, while Penn State added five of their own, ending the quarter with an 11-9 advantage.
Penn State hangs on
Penn State picked up right where they left off in the third. Jeb Brenfleck, who only found the net five times in the regular season, fired one home to give Penn State a 12-9 lead. But then Princeton found the back of the net for the first time in 24 minutes of game time and crawled back within two.
It didn’t take nearly as long for them to find another one, scoring again just 23 seconds later. The Tigers used that momentum to tie the game at 12 just moments later. The rollercoaster affair rolled on when Winkoff added a goal to give Penn State the lead back. Ultimately, that was the game’s final goal, as Penn State made some massive stops to ice it down the stretch, winning by a score of 13-12.
The Lions march on in the NCAA Tournament
The win allowed Penn State to advance to their second NCAA Tournament quarterfinal appearance ever. The Nittany Lions will take on this year’s Cinderella team, Army, who stunned No.4-seeded Maryland last weekend. The game will take place in Annapolis, MD, next Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Final Four.
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