UMass wins battle of ranked teams, rivals in Cambridge

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Brain Tedder / Collegian

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Jim Connolly sniping in goals; Doc Schneider denying everything in net; and a No. 18 flattening anyone in his way ‘- sound familiar?

With each game, the 2009 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team looks more and more like the 2006 version that finished one win short of a national championship. That’s bad news for the elite teams in college lacrosse.

Harvard saw first-hand Saturday afternoon.

Behind three of their stars, the No. 19 Minutemen dominated the No. 12 Crimson in Cambridge, leading from start to finish in a 7-3 victory in a meeting between two heated rivals and nationally-ranked teams.

‘I get pretty angry ‘- nothing against Harvard or anything,’ said UMass defender Diogo Godoi, who set the tone for an extremely physical game with a number of bone-crunching hits. ‘I’m from New Hampshire lacrosse-wise, I don’t really bring lacrosse skills to the game per-se ‘- so I try to bring what I can and being physical is definitely one of my strengths.’

Whenever Harvard (2-1) managed to avoid getting leveled by No. 18, Schneider (14 saves) further demoralized the Crimson by stopping shots one after another. Harvard easily outshot the Minutemen 39-21, but UMass’ All-American candidate at goalkeeper denied virtually every attempt en route to a career-best three goals allowed.

‘He really bailed us out a couple of times,’ junior midfielder Bobby Hayes said of Schneider. ‘A couple of big saves always sparks us on offense.’

And per the norm for the Minutemen (3-1), it was Connolly and Tim Balise that provided it. The senior attackmen each scored two goals, giving UMass all the offense it needed with Schneider and Godoi ‘- who plays a lot like former No. 18 Jack Reid ‘- anchoring the defense.

Saturday’s game marked UMass’ 13th consecutive victory ‘- and 19th out of 20 ‘- over Harvard in Cambridge. But more importantly for the Minutemen, they proved that they can compete with any team, anywhere. After failing to hold a four-goal lead and losing 11-10 on a last-second goal at then- No. 14 Hofstra on Feb. 21, a road win over a good team was exactly what UMass needed.

‘We beat two good teams that we’re very good teams, but teams that I guess you could say we were supposed to beat,’ Schneider said of the victories over Sacred Heart and Yale. ‘But to come down as an underdog again, on the road, and beat a very, very good Harvard team like that ‘- it’s going to give all of us a lot of confidence.’

Entering the second half with a 4-1 lead, UMass’ confidence could have been shaken in the third quarter ‘- as the Crimson cut the lead to 5-3, constantly peppering Schneider with shots from all directions. Harvard outshot UMass 14-4, but none of that mattered when Connolly scored a crucial goal with 13 seconds left in the quarter to push the lead back to three.

Connolly made it look so easy, spinning away from a Crimson defender to launch a shot past goalkeeper Joe Pike.

‘That was crucial and a huge goal for us,’ said UMass coach Greg Cannella, referring to weathering Harvard’s offense and Connolly’s tally in the third quarter. ‘Anytime in the game when you can fight something off and then take a step forward, as we did, that’s positive energy going into the fourth quarter.’

The Minutemen turned that energy into an early goal in the final period. Balise rifled a shot for his second tally to extend UMass’ lead to 7-3 with 12 minutes, 25 seconds left in the game. Harvard never scored again: Schneider kept making spectacular saves, Godoi kept laying people out and the UMass offense played keep-away to run out the clock and seal the win.

The Minutemen led 2-0 10 minutes into the game. Harvard answered back, but UMass scored the only two goals of the third quarter to enter halftime with a 4-1 lead.

The Minutemen relished the victory and what it means for their team, but with a tough game upcoming against Albany on Tuesday, Cannella won’t be celebrating for long.

‘It builds confidence. To me it just means the team bonds together a little bit more and players can trust each other out there,’ he said of the win. ‘But we have a quick turnaround and you have to play another game. You continually have to prove that.’

Game notes

Rory Pedrick, Bobby Hayes and Art Kell each scored one goal for UMass. ‘hellip; Connolly, Hayes and Pedrick all had one assist. ‘hellip; The last time the Minutemen only allowed three goals was in an 8-3 win on March 22, 2005 against Sacred Heart. ‘hellip; Godoi was called for four penalties, including a rare two-minute infraction for an illegal body check. ‘hellip; UMass was 0-for-5 on the man-up, while Harvard was 1-for-6. Harvard won eight of the 12 face-offs.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]