Just two weeks ago, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team had a difficult task in front of it after falling to 0-4 in Colonial Athletic Association play with a loss at home to Drexel.
The Minutemen not only needed to win their final two games, but they also needed plenty of help along the way in order to clinch the No. 4 seed in the CAA Tournament.
Well, after a 16-8 win on Friday night against Delaware at Garber Field and losses from both Hofstra and Saint Joseph’s on Saturday, UMass (7-7, 2-4 CAA) completed its task and now moves on to Wednesday’s CAA semifinal at 3 p.m. against host team and top-seeded Penn State.
“It’s a feeling that we’ve got to get prepared,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said.
When asked about what the last two weeks have been like, Cannella said, “They’ve been full of preparation and practice and keeping our guys focused on what’s important and that would be the next game.”
Making the CAA Tournament wouldn’t have been possible first without a win over the Blue Hens on Friday, and in front of 1,623 on Senior Night, the Minutemen outscored them 8-2 in the second quarter en route to their most lopsided victory of the season.
Seniors Kyle Smith and Will Manny capped off their standout careers at 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.”
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, and 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 pad the Minutemen’s lead late in the game.
“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.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.