March 4, 2015

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UMass keeps playoff hopes alive with win over Delaware

Massachusetts men’s lacrosse coach Greg Cannella has emphasized the importance of scoring in double-figures in every game all season long.

On Friday night, the Minutemen broke that mark before halftime.

Stephen Hewitt/Collegian

UMass outscored Delaware 8-2 in the second quarter and never looked back, cruising past the Blue Hens, 16-8, in front of 1,623 at Garber Field on Senior Night.

Seniors Kyle Smith and Will Manny capped off their standout careers on Garber Field in style, scoring six and four goals, respectively, and reviving the lethal one-two punch they were expected to be at the beginning of the season.

“I’ve never had a better connection with someone,” said Manny, who has been roommates with Smith for the past four years. “(Smith’s) a great finisher and he can feed the ball too. I mean, just having a threat all over the field and being able to cut and know he’s gonna feed you the ball, and when you feed him the ball you know he’s gonna put it in the back of the net.”

The Minutemen (7-7, 2-4 Colonial Athletic Association) now await Saturday night’s results as they need wins from both Penn State and Towson in order to clinch the fourth and final CAA Tournament spot.

“I’ll be watching,” Manny said. “It’s at (7 p.m. on Saturday) so it’s kind of annoying we have to wait the whole entire day, but we did what we needed to do. We won our game at home on Senior Night and defended Garber Field for the last time so that’s all we could ask for.”

Delaware (5-10, 1-5 CAA) hung around with UMass throughout the first quarter and the beginning of the second despite some bad turnovers and poor offensive execution early on. The Blue Hens cut the Minutemen’s advantage to 4-3 with 12 minutes, 1 second left in the first half when Nick Diachenko beat goalkeeper Zachary Oliveri (eight saves) with a shot from the outside.

But Joe Calvello quickly turned the momentum back in UMass’ favor. The junior won the ensuing faceoff and raced down field to find Smith in front of the net. Smith then finished the rest with a shot to beat Blue Hens goalie Conor Peaks (16 saves) at 11:55.

Leading 6-4 with 7:44 left in the first half, the Minutemen exploded with five unanswered goals, capped off by Smith’s fifth tally of the half with 3.7 seconds remaining to give UMass an 11-4 lead at intermission.

“It’s definitely how you’d like to draw it up,” Smith said. “It doesn’t always go that way, but (Friday) it did and Will was great and Grant (Whiteway, two goals) was too.”

UMass spent much of the third quarter trying to work the ball around and keep the clock moving, scoring just one goal in the period. But in the fourth, the top attack unit was at it again.

Whiteway found Smith down by the crease. Smith then fed a cutting Manny towards the cage for a one-timer to give UMass a 13-6 advantage with 14:06 left to play.

Whiteway, Smith and Manny each scored once more in the fourth to lead the Minutemen to their most lopsided win since their season-opening 16-9 win over Army on Feb. 9.

“You would love to see that instant replay throughout your 14 games,” Cannella said. “Those guys were pretty special tonight. It’s good to see, I’m happy for them.”

After losing to Drexel at home on April 13 with just two games to play, UMass appeared hopeless. But, following a pair of convincing wins to close out the regular season, UMass still has life. And Cannella, who will be down at Hofstra with assistants Doc Schneider and Brian Jacovina to scout the game against the Nittany Lions in hopes of meeting them in the CAA semifinal, couldn’t be more proud.

“Just the perseverance that the guys showed,” Cannella said. “They could’ve hung it up…our seniors and our upperclassmen did a nice job of keeping our guys together and continue to have them work hard, so you have to be proud of that.”

Nick Canelas can be reached at ncanelas@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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