Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass wins title in OT thriller, earns NCAA berth

By Scott Feldman, Collegian Staff

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – After 60 minutes of momentum swings, violent hits and back-and-forth action, the game is tied, and the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team’s entire season comes down to sudden-death overtime.

A goal clinches the Eastern College Athletic Conference regular season title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Surrender a goal, and their season is likely over. With so much on the line, UMass turned to its team captain.

Tim Balise scored his fifth goal of the game in overtime against Rutgers to lead the Minutemen to an 11-10 victory over Rutgers Saturday in Piscataway, N.J. UMass also received standout performances from goalkeeper Doc Schneider (19 saves) and attacker Jim Connolly, who scored three goals.

But after the thrilling overtime win, it was all about Balise.

‘Mr. everything Tim Balise, the 4.0 [GPA], [his] five goals today and the game-winner,’ said Connolly. ‘Timmy and Doc are two of the hardest working kids I know, and they deserve every award and accolade they get.’

Balise scored the game-winner moments after a game-saving stop on a point-blank shot by Schneider. The ball was quickly cleared up the field and Balise scored on a jumping bounce-shot with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left in overtime to seal the win and the ECAC Championship.

‘We told our guys they were going to be in a battle for 60 minutes, it wound up being 62,’ UMass coach Greg Cannella said. ‘So we knew what we were in for. Rutgers played their tails off today.’

Connolly’s third goal nearly put the game away in regulation. With the Minutemen (9-5, 6-1 ECAC) tied, 9-9, with 2:30 left in the game, he found himself isolated with a defender standing between him and the net. He jumped above the defenseman and rocketed a shot into the net to give UMass a 10-9 lead.

The lead didn’t last long as Rutgers attacker Gerhard Buehning scored his team-high fourth goal to knot the score at 10 with 1:35 left in regulation.

The game went into overtime after both teams missed golden opportunities to put the game away. First, an errant pass by the Scarlet Knights (4-11, 2-5 ECAC) squandered a 4-on-2 breakaway with 1:10 on the clock. One minute later, UMass midfielder Evan Blum managed an open shot in front off the net, but it clanged off the post and bounced to midfield right before time expired.

Balise may not have gotten the opportunity to score a game-winner without the play of Schneider, who leads the NCAA in save percentage at .658.

He had a difficult start to the contest, allowing five goals in the first period on six shots on goal as the Scarlet Knights made a 5-0 run after UMass took an early 1-0 lead.

Schneider’s performance picked up dramatically once the second period started. He became a virtual brick wall, making 12 straight saves as UMass stormed back with a 5-0 run off its own to take a 6-5 lead early in the third quarter.

‘I had to focus in a little bit more, maybe stop running the defense as much, but we settled down. I think everyone was just trying to make a home-run play defensively and offensively,’ Schneider said. ‘I wasn’t playing well and kind of put us in a bit of a hole so I just slowed down; I’ve started every game since I’ve been here so I just [had to play] like it was a normal game.’

After a first half that saw both teams trading big runs, the second half evolved in a nip-and-tuck battle as neither team ever led by more than one goal after halftime.

Connolly (35 goals, five assists this season) scored two of his three goals after halftime, including an amazing individual effort on his second goal that tied the game at 7-7.

Blanketed by three Scarlet Knights, Connolly somehow managed a shot from behind his back that slipped by Rutgers goalkeeper Peter Pantages.

‘That was just Jimmy being Jimmy,’ Balise said. ‘He comes up with some of the most ridiculous shots. He’s got an awesome stick; he had a few goals today that I don’t even know where he shot it from.’

Bobby Hayes, Rory Pedrick and Art Kell all scored one goal apiece for the Minutemen.

Saturday’s win marked a complete turnaround from last season, when the Minutemen stumbled to a 5-9 record after eight players were suspended because of an off-the-field incident.

UMass will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, when the Minutemen lost in the championship game to Virginia.

Game notes

The score at halftime was 5-5. Nine different players scored a goal in the first half’hellip;UMass tallied assists on just two of its 11 goals’hellip;The score was tied at 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9 and 10-10 at various points in the second half’hellip;Eight of the 10 Rutgers goals were scored by players who came off the bench.

Scott Feldman can be reached at [email protected]

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