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No. 15 UMass men’s lacrosse upsets No. 7 Penn State in CAA opener

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Going into Saturday’s game, the No. 15 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team knew its matchup against preseason Colonial Athletic Association favorite Penn State would be one of its biggest games of the season.

UMass responded with an 8-6 win against the No. 7 Nittany Lions in State College, Pa., behind a solid performance from goalkeeper Zach Oliveri.

Oliveri recorded 15 saves in the win, and although that number doesn’t seem very high, all 15 of them came off of open chances from Penn State.

“I think it was a combination of our offense with timely scoring and the defense played well in front of (Oliveri),” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “Zach got off to a good start and played with confidence for the rest of the game. We had to hang in there for 60 minutes and fortunately we did.”

Despite a strong defensive performance from the Minutemen (6-1, 1-0 CAA), their offense was nothing to overlook either as attackmen Connor Mooney and Nick Mariano scored two goals apiece.

Mooney scored both of his goals in highlight-reel fashion. With five minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Mooney attacked the cage from the near side of the field. The attackman made one quick juke, causing a Penn State defenseman to fall to his ankles as Mooney scored falling down to tie the game at 1-1. His second came with 4:39 left in the third when he caught a pass mid-air from Grant Whiteway, spun and fired all in one motion to give UMass a 6-3 advantage.

“He scored some big goals for us and that’s what you expect seniors to do,” Cannella said. “Connor’s been here for four years now and has a lot of experience playing in games like this. You would love for him to finish the other two opportunities he had, but it’s great to have the common force out there and someone who has the confidence in himself to make those plays.”

Penn State (3-3, 0-1 CAA) was led by attackman T.J. Sanders, who finished the game with three goals and four ground balls. Shane Sturgis also chipped in with two goals and an assist as well. Sturgis would have also had a hat trick for the Nittany Lions, his goal at the end of the second quarter was waved off after the buzzer went off, preserving a 5-3 Minutemen lead at the break.

Nittany Lion goalkeeper Austin Kaut, who was named CAA Preseason Player of the Year, finished the game with 10 saves.

After Sanders cut the UMass lead to 8-5 on his second goal with 1:53 left in the game, face-off specialist Joe Calvello headed out to the dot to take his face-offs like he always does. This time, however, Calvello was forced to head back to the sidelines after the referees deemed his stick illegal.

“(Penn State’s) coach called a stick check on Joe, and his stick was not wide enough,” Cannella said. “They checked his stick one minute and five seconds before and they didn’t call it illegal. This time they deemed it illegal. Face-off guys’ sticks kind of bend and mold, and Joe went out and didn’t even realize his stick was illegal. He’s not pinching his stick to cheat but, we weren’t happy about it and unfortunately that’s the way it goes.”

It ultimately made little difference as the Minutemen’s defense held Penn State to just a meaningless goal in the game’s final seconds the rest of the way.

Although this may go down as arguably UMass’ biggest win of the season, Cannella has already moved on and is ready to continue his trek through the gauntlet of the CAA.

“I don’t think anything is really critical at this time of year,” he said. “You play the games as they approach you and our next most important game of the year is Tuesday against Fairfield.”

The Minutemen return to action Tuesday at 3 p.m. as they travel to Fairfield to take on the Stags.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at arcyr@umas.edu, and can be followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.

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